When Fiction and Reality Collide
Posted by: Misha Stone
As a Fiction Librarian, I often get a little annoyed when patrons distinguish the difference between fiction and non-fiction as “fake” versus “real.” It’s moments like those when I want to correct such glosses in judgment. But that’s too big a debate to get into and I probably wouldn’t do it any justice. Besides, I’d probably come off as a silly little know-it-all (one of the dangers of the profession which I think best to be avoided).
Fiction, though, can be every bit as “real” as a lot of the non-fiction out there. Histories, for instance, are assembled and interpreted based on the author’s view and the time in which they are written. But the relativity question aside, sometimes fictional works really do capture the real world better than their non-fiction counterparts or can accompany them very nicely.
Case in point: Recently my book group discussed Allegra Goodman’s Intuition. It’s a novel about a group of scientific researchers, one of whom thinks he’s discovered a virus that may cure cancer. But when a colleague questions the results as too good to be true, the doors are thrown wide on the pressure-cooker environment that scientists work in where grants and publishing rule. Many scientists are aghast that one of their own could deign question the results of another’s scientific research—a scientist would never lie! Or would they? Goodman’s novel explores the intricacies of motivation, ethics and how personal relationships affect the workplace.
Shortly after my group discussed the novel, an exposé on a local researcher who falsified findings came out. Here is the article:
So there you have it, another case of fiction describing reality. Another feather in our cap!