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Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir Paperback – October 1, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

One has good reason to be suspicious of a book that calls itself a "metaphorical memoir." If a metaphor substitutes one thing for another to which it's not ordinarily related, and a memoir relates the personal experiences of the author, then a metaphorical memoir would be... well, lying, if we're going to get technical about it. Or it could be Lying, in which case, hold that judgment and lay all categories aside: here is a book so stunningly contrary it deserves a whole genre to itself.

Lauren Slater may have grown up with epilepsy. Or she may have Munchausen syndrome, "also called factitious illness," also called lying. Or, quite possibly, she has never had any of the above, and all her exquisite evocations of auras and grand mal seizures are merely well-researched symbolic descriptions of her psychic state. In a chapter that's disguised as an extended letter to her editor (and impishly titled "How to Market This Book") she defends her decision to call the work nonfiction:

Why is what we feel less true than what is? Supposing I simply feel like an epileptic, a spastic person, one with a shivering brain; supposing I have chosen epilepsy because it is the most accurate conduit to convey my psyche to you? Would this not still be a memoir, my memoir?
Slater is peering down a slippery slope here, and for all its manifest brilliance, the pyrotechnics of its prose, reading Lying can be an unnerving experience--sort of like hanging out with a compulsive liar, actually. (It's no help to find out that "after all, a lot, or at least some, or at least a few, of the literal facts are accurate.")

But if Slater is playing with our heads, she's not doing so for fashionable postmodern reasons. Lying's bag of tricks emerges from some complex and deeply felt ideas about form, reality, and consciousness itself--and what's more, it's an extraordinary memoir, "true" or not. A field full of nuns, their windblown habits tipping them over into the snow; an electric brain stimulator that makes a patient see colors and taste her own words; Slater rolling in mounds of Barbadian sugar and then running back to her mother, coated like candy--who cares whether any of these actually happened? In the end, Lying is fundamentally true, just as a great novel or indeed any great work of art is true: in a way that has nothing to do with fact. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 58310th edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014200006X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142000069
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

LAUREN SLATER is the author of "The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals" (Beacon Press, 2012) and "Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother" (Beacon Press, Nov. 2013). A psychologist and writer, Slater is the author of five books of nonfiction: Welcome to My Country, Prozac Diary, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Love Works Like This, and Opening Skinner's Box, as well as a collection of short stories, Blue Beyond Blue. Slater has received numerous awards, including a 2004 National Endowment for the Arts award, multiple inclusions in Best American volumes, and a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Photographer Photo Credit Name: Dianne Newton, 2012.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. The barbed review by Janet Maslin in the NYT seems to me to reflect more on Maslin's squeamishness with self revelation than it does on the book itself, which exerts an unsually strong narrative pull while also exploring moral, philosophical and psychological issues.
The book begins when Slater, age ten, starts experiencing strange, oftentimes lovely hallucinations, called auras, and then the wracking seizures that soon follow. At the same time Slater manages, slyly but charmingly, to warn us for reasons this book then goes on to explore that she may be making her epileptic illness up. In any case, her seizures worsen, and eventually Slater undergoes brain surgery in order to cure her condition. The surgery works, in that it reduces the seizurees, but she is left still with her auras, and it is in the midst of an especially potent aura that Slater discovers her creativity as a writer. She then goes off to Bread Loaf Writer's conference, only to meet and fall in love with an author some thirty years her senior. We follow Slater, breathlessly, through her illness, her surgery, through her torrid, touching, and at times horrifying love affair, to its painful conclusion, when she is left alone, having to grapple with the emptiness that follows passionate attachment. This book succeeds on multiple levels, which makes for a rich and rewarding reading experience. On the one hand there's the straightforward narrative of illness, cure, and love affair, all compulsively page turning. On the other hand, there's the meta level: throughout the text Slater casts doubt as to the veracity of her story. "Some epileptics," Slater writes, "have the neurologically based need to lie." Or, she offers, maybe she doesn't have epilepsy at all.
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Format: Hardcover
This is Slater's best work yet. It's a novel, a memoir, a neurological thriller, a fantastic flamboyant merging of genres. Slater tells the compulsively readable story of a young girl's epilepsy.(Her own? Maybe, maybe not, it hardly matters,) and the fascinating neurologically based states that result: auras of every color, scintillating smells; here, in this work, Slater examines fully the poetic possibility of disease, and, also, the way we use disease not only as an art form, but as a conduit for love. The scenes involving brain surgery and electrical brain probes are especially haunting and ironically accurate for a book which claims it's rooted in deception. It may be, but if so, than Lying, a splendid tour de force, illumintes for all of us how close truth and trickery really are.
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A Kid's Review on December 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I originally read a copy from England, surprisingly, it had a different title, "Spasm: A Memoir With Lies." Needless to say, I was intrigued by the title & read it right away. Without going into much detail about how this book changed me in a way I cannot formulate, I would like to point out that it does address important questions regarding what we accept as our Reality vs. our Genuine Experience of Reality. For me, because Slater includes all the lies (or truths) we tell ourselves daily, it was one of the most honest, insightful, artistic and perplexing memoirs I have read.
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By A Customer on May 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I truly loved this book, I found it both profound and in a very odd way honest. The title tells you what to expect, "A Metaphorical Memoir". This is not a story about facts, which facts are true, and which are not, this is irrelevant. The honesty is in the human experience of this woman, that she is indeed lost somewhere in the gray matter of life, and what that constant state of "seizure" is like for her. This book is not for the person who takes everything literal, but if you are able to see her in the fictions and truths that she shares, without knowing which is which, the point of the book will not be lost to you.
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Format: Hardcover
Lauren Slater, Lying (Random House, 2000)

I picked up Lauren Slater's first book, Welcome to My Country, on a whim in 1997, and instantly fell in love with Slater's impeccable prose. That she related case studies without descending into the smarmy self-help realm of, say, Oliver Sacks helped immensely. Welcome to My Country was on my best-I-read list that year.

Fast forward to 2005, and I start wondering what Slater's been up to since releasing it. I check her out at Amazon, and am thrilled to find she's released two books since. Lying is the first of them I picked up, and it's great to see she's still at the top of her game.

Billed as "a metaphorical memoir," we are given an autobiography of Lauren Slater, an epileptic who's had a rather extreme surgical procedure performed to counter her epilepsy. It controls the physical aspects-- the seizures-- but hasn't controlled any of the mental. This, of course, is the stuff popular memoirs are made of; the dysfunctional childhood sells.

What Slater brings to the table that sets her apart from the others is that, while there is always the understanding that the memoir is colored by the perceptions of its author, Slater recognizes this as much as any reader, and has decided to play with it-- to the point where the reader (and the person who wrote the cover copy, as well) realize that by the time we reach the first of Slater's revelations that she's written a fantasy as an actual event, we can no longer even be sure she has epilepsy. This opens up whole worlds of discussion in the larger genre of memoir, and that in itself makes Lying a singularly important work in its field; if taken as a greater meditation on memoir, the reader should come away with this book with a new way of looking at the form.
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