Believe it or not

Rebecca Mead

  • True Tales of American Life by Paul Auster
    Faber, 416 pp, £16.99, November 2001, ISBN 0 571 21050 3

A couple of years ago, Paul Auster was asked by a producer at National Public Radio whether he would become a regular contributor to one of the network’s more popular shows. All he’d have to do was come up with a story every month or so and read it aloud. Daunted by the prospect – what writer has plotlines to spare? – Auster was about to decline, when his wife, Siri Hustvedt, who is also a novelist, came up with a suggestion. What if Auster invited listeners to send in their own stories, the best of which he would read on the air? The National Story Project has so far received more than five thousand submissions. The stories, a selection of which are now gathered here, were solicited without consideration of literary merit; the only criterion for inclusion was that they should be true. ‘I was hoping to put together an archive of facts, a museum of American reality,’ Auster writes in his introduction. What he’s actually produced is a compelling argument for fiction. You come away from this book wishing that Auster and Hustvedt had done what novelists usually do when presented with the raw material of other people’s experience: stolen the best of it.

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