As Sedaris told me, the Dusty quote is partly fabricated and the other two are made up. So what? Well, it’s one thing for a humorist to recreate dialogue that captures the general spirit of how a conversation unfolded. It’s another to manufacture lines like a playwright, a technique that lets you sidestep a problem that hobbles nonfiction writers all the time: Often, nothing interesting happens when you report a story. But that’s exactly what Sedaris does. When reality sags, he opens the funny-dialogue nozzle. Sometimes in Naked, these rants aren’t just the glue holding his stories together; they are the story.
This is fascinating. I’m under no impression that Mike Daisey’s piece is the first story This American Life has broadcast that has contained major factual inaccuracies or outright fabrications—they’ve done more than 400 episodes; that seems impossible to avoid. It does make sense to me that his would be the first they retracted in this way, given that it was a massively popular episode and that Daisey’s show has factored so heavily into the conversation about Apple and its Chinese factories and labor practices in general. I think the stakes are just higher when you enter into that kind of terrain—and they’re less high when it comes to dealing with depictions of your adolescent music teachers or old summer jobs. Still, a nagging feeling that David Sedaris’ wild, true stories were actually not all that true has kept me from loving his work as much as many people have probably thought I should/would, and I’m glad this New Republic piece has been churned up by the Daisey stuff, because I missed it the first time.
So, right, I’m not shocked at all that many of the most fantastic details of Sedaris’ most beloved pieces aren’t wholly true, or even a little bit true, but this still bugs me so much. Really makes me sick, on kind of a stupid personal level, because it would be pretty great if I could make a career out of writing books full of funny, true stories about my dumb weird life (dreeeammmzz!), but more and more it’s seeming like in order to do that a person has to be able to stretch her own truth much, much further than I’m willing. Whomp!
It’s interesting, too, that Daisey and John D’Agata have been painted, or at least received, as raging egomaniacs, but Sedaris is still very much beloved—I guess this New Republic thing hit just before the Internet As Public-ish Evisceration Forum really congealed (oh, 2007—sweet, sweet 2007). He should be grateful for that, I suppose.