Cover image for Lying : a metaphorical memoir
Lying : a metaphorical memoir
Slater, Lauren.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 221 pages ; 21 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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Material Type
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RC372 .S576 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"Slater explores a mind, a body and a life under siege. Diagnosed as a child with a strange illness, brought up in a family given to fantasy and ambition, Lauren Slater developed seizures, auras, neurological disturbances - and an ability to lie. In Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Slater blends a coming-of-age story with an electrifying exploration of the nature of truth, and of whether it is ever possible to tell - or to know - the facts about a self, a human being, a life."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Slater, author of Prozac Diary (1998), marshals her literary virtuosity and dual perspective as a psychologist who has suffered mental disorders in this highly provocative inquiry into the nature of epilepsy. She describes her own epileptic seizures with poetic intensity, then declares that "some epileptics are liars," and, indeed, many episodes feel more dramatized than documented. She lyrically recounts her spiritual awakening at a special school for epileptics run by nuns only to slyly observe that epileptics often harbor religious fixations. Slater then suggests that she actually had Munchausen syndrome, which induces sufferers to feign illnesses. Did she have an operation to separate the hemispheres of her brain, or is that a metaphor for her divided sense of self? Each anecdote is as enrapturing and disorienting as the auras, or "strange states," she experiences just before her seizures, and all are inspired by the same overarching question: Why is what we feel less true than what is? Slater's uncanny narrative subtly reveals the meshing of the factual with the emotional and the real with the imagined. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

If fact is shaded with metaphor, does it become fiction? In a memoir that raises that question, the author of Prozac Diary and Welcome to My Country narrates a life marked by a disease she may or may not actually have. "I have epilepsy," she writes in the first chapter. "Or I feel I have epilepsy. Or I wish I had epilepsy, so I could find a way of explaining the dirty, spastic glittering place I had in my mother's heart." But was it epilepsy, or depression, or bipolar disorder, or Munchausen syndrome, or none of the above? And did Slater really undergo a corpus callostomy operation separating her right and left brain? Questions of authenticity aside, at its core this memoir touchingly describes the coming of age of a young girl who relies on illness to gain the attention of her narcissistic mother and ineffectual father, and who must find a way to navigate her parents' often vicious marriage and her own troubled adolescence. Slater, who says she must take anticonvulsant medication daily, had her first seizure the summer she turned 10. The symptoms of epilepsy function as a vehicle for her most potently written passages: dazzling hallucinations, teeth-grinding spasms, exuberant exaggerations. As often happens to those with illness, Slater moves from diagnosis to misdiagnosis to cure to redefinition and eventually to acceptance. In her afterword, the author explains that for personal and philosophical reasons, she had no choice but to transcribe her life in "a slippery, playful, impish, exasperating text, shaped, if it could be, like a question mark." The skill with which she achieves her goal reflects unusual insight. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In some ways this memoir suits the current pattern of deconstructing the writings on the bookshelves. In it, the author provides several versions of her reality though she never offers a conclusive, "authoritative" truth. Although the sophisticated reader knows that any person's truth about his or her life is only a more or less accurate telling of what memory provides, the reader of the present volume may be disconcerted not only to be offered several variations but also to be denied the comfort of knowing the ostensibly correct one. Did Slater have epilepsy? One would assume this much is true. Did she have Munchausen's syndrome? Perhaps to some extent. The book is reminiscent in some ways of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Both books use highly charged, often poetic language and both tell the story of a young, creative, mentally troubled female's effort to grow up. Slater's prose style is fresh and engaging and for much of the book that in itself is enough to sustain the reader's interest. Eventually, though, as the subject does grow up, the reader grows weary of her insistence on not revealing the true version of her life. Not for academic collections. S. Raeschild; College of Santa Fe



INTRODUCTION I first encountered Lauren Slater as a writer when I read her account of schizophrenia in her book Welcome to My Country. Since that time I have followed her work, always intrigued by its development. Now, in her third effort, this author brings us a daring meditation on creative nonfiction, a story of epilepsy that is at once entertaining and disturbing. What makes this book disturbing is its incrementally rising refusal to state the facts of the illness about which she writes. By the end of the book, the reader is, indeed, left to wonder whether, or to what degree, Ms. Slater has suffered epilepsy, or if she has used the disease as a meaningful metaphor to convey what are otherwise unutterable experiences in her life. Using metaphor as a literary technique is not a new concept in fiction; however, using, or suggesting, the use of metaphor as a valid vehicle to convey autobiographical truths-thus her insistence that this book is, indeed, a nonfiction memoir-is a new and unsettling idea. Perhaps more unsettling and exciting is the writer's insistence on not revealing to us which aspects of her disease are factual, which symbolic, which real, which fantastical, and by doing so asking us to enter with her a new kind of Heideggerian truth, the truth of the liminal, the not-knowing, the truth of confusion, which, if we can only learn to tolerate, yields us greater wisdom in the long run than packaged and parceled facts. This book requires courage, along with an open and flexible mind. I have been disturbed, widened and exhilarated by my reading of it, as I hope you will be too. Hayward Krieger Professor of Philosophy University of Southern California CHAPTER 2 THREE BLIND MICE The summer I turned ten I smelled jasmine everywhere I went. At first I thought the smell was part of the normal world, because we were having a hot spell that July, and every night it rained and the flowers were in full bloom. So I didn't pay much attention, except, after a while, I noticed I smelled jasmine in the bath, and my dreams were full of it, and when, one day, I cut my palm on a piece of glass, my blood itself was scented, and I started to feel scared and also good. That was one world, and I called it the jasmine world. I didn't know, then, that epilepsy often begins with strange smells, some of which are pleasant, some of which are not. I was lucky to have a good smell. Other people's epilepsy begins with bad smells, such as tuna fish rotting in the sun, dead shark, gin and piss; these are just some of the stories I've heard. My world, though, was the jasmine world, and I told no one about it. As the summer went on, the jasmine world grew; other odors entered, sometimes a smell of burning, as though the whole house were coming down. Which, in a way, it was. There were my mother and my father, both of whom I loved-that much is true-but my father was too small, my mother too big, and occasionally, when the jasmine came on, I would also feel a lightheadedness that made my mother seem even bigger, my father even smaller, so he was the size of a freckle, she higher than a house, all her hair flying. My father was a Hebrew School teacher, and once a year he took the bimah on Yom Kippur. My mother was many things, a round-robin tennis player with an excellent serve, a hostess, a housewife, a schemer, an ideologue, she wanted to free the Russian Jews, educate the Falashas, fly on the Concorde, drink at the Ritz. She did drink, but not at the Ritz. She drank in the den or in her bedroom, always with an olive in her glass. I wanted to make my mother happy, that should come as no surprise. She had desires, for a harp, for seasonal seats at the opera, neither of which my father could afford. She was a woman of grand gestures and high standards and she rarely spoke the truth. She told me she was a Holocaust survivor, a hot-air balloonist, a personal friend of Golda Meir. From my mother I learned that truth is bendable, that what you wish is every bit as real as what you are. I have epilepsy. Or I feel I have epilepsy. Or I wish I had epilepsy, so I could find a way of explaining the dirty, spas tic glittering place I had in my mother's heart. Epilepsy is a fascinating disease because some epileptics are liars, exaggerators, makers of myths and high-flying stories. Doctors don't know why this is, something to do, maybe, with the way a scar on the brain dents memory or mutates reality. My epilepsy started with the smell of jasmine, and that smell moved into my mouth. And when I opened my mouth after that, all my words seemed colored, and I don't know where this is my mother or where this is my illness, or whether, like her, I am just confusing fact with fiction, and there is no epilepsy, just a clenched metaphor, a way of telling you what I have to tell you: my tale. The summer of the smells was also the summer of new sounds. There were the crickets, which I could hear with astonishing clarity each evening, and the rain on the roof, each drop distinct. There was the piano, which my mother did not tell us about, her secret scheme, delivered one day in ropes and pulleys, its forehead branded "Lady Anita." "Return it," my father said. "I can't," she said. "I've had it engraved." "Anita," he said. We were standing in the living room. "Anita, there's no room to move with this Steinway in here." "Since when do you move anyway?" my mother said. "You play pinochle. You pray. You are not a man who requires room. I never witnessed one of their fights. My father was, by nature, private and shy. My mother, though flamboyant, did not display emotion in public. Whenever a fight came up I was banished to my room. 1, however, had long ago discovered that if I put my head in the upstairs bathroom toilet bowl, I could hear everything through the pipes. "We can't afford this," I heard my father say. "You," my mother said, "had the chance to partner up in Irving Busney's bakery business." And so it went from there, as it always did, fights containing words like you, and you, fights about bills and house repairs, vacations and cars, fights with false laughs-ha! and ha! and sometimes crashing glass, and other times, like this time, such silence. Excerpted from Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.