I was talking with a friend about a problem in my book that concerns an unreliable narrator. It turns out that casting a useful unreliable narrator is tricky business, even if that character is a small part of the book. At each step along the way the writer need to know why she's saying what she's saying, and what the other characters believe and don't believe, what the reader believes and doesn't believe. Did the narrator get the facts wrong from the get-go, did she process them wrong because of a narcissistic bend in her machine or other personality issue, or is she fully aware she's manipulating? Does the unreliable narrator believe her own bullshit?
Tricky business. And it's a headtrip, because now I'm looking at real narratives -- Facebook statuses and blog posts, for example -- with this new brain photoediting filter on, and whoa. It's a tilt-a-wheel out there!
It's like you are sitting in Starbucks and across the office building lobby you see your friend exit an elevator that contained three business guys and a red-headed dude carrying a small snake in a plastic terrarium. She greets you, exclaiming "Wow, I am so weirded out! I was alone in the elevator with a clown wearing a massive boa constrictor around his neck, and he actually tried to hit on me. This building is so creepy!"
The other day I was remembering this guy Peter I worked with years ago. We worked for a small outdoor sports magazine, and he was a key ad sales guy. He was a manic, hopped-up compulsive liar, and it made him a kick ass salesman. His boss John used to love to get him going, for sport, at a lunch table or just randomly during the day. He would ask him follow questions to goad on the impossible stories of women, outdoor adventures or heroic daily events staring Peter the Great, but the questions always felt sincere, not like truth traps. I guess John was a great liar, too. Salesmen. It was a beautiful dance that was my favorite part of any given day, even though as editorial we would try to act all church-and-state above it. Once at an office awards (motivation!) ceremony John gave Peter a certificate of a tree with the slogan "Peter would rather climb up a tall tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground to tell the truth." The room grew silent. I cringed. Peter looked so proud though, beamed while receiving it and said, "No, really, you deserve this, John!" He really sold it, too. Like I said, he was a great salesman.
We started telling stories to teach each other about the hunt, right? To transfer knowledge about which berries are toxic. But sometimes there will be this lady at the fire ring going on and on about these brand new berries she found and bravely tested all on her own, and you and the other berry pickers, fresh from the same feast, look at each other wondering whether to laugh at the absurdity, admire her mythmaking or to take it as a sign that those berries you all ate weren't so harmless after all.