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telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate
it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others.
You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the
night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents
that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify
This passage comes from “Notes,” a story
about O’Brien’s efforts to allay Norman Bowker’s guilt about Kiowa’s
death and his feelings of aimlessness after the war by telling a
story. O’Brien reflects on his own storytelling after Bowker sends
him a letter asking for a story because he, Bowker, wants to explain
his feelings of frustration and disillusionment but doesn’t know
what to say. The letter inspires O’Brien to consider his own storytelling
as a means for coping with his traumatic experiences. This particular
passage is one of several that support O’Brien’s contention that
in storytelling, objective truth is not as important as the feeling
that a story gives. Later, in “Good Form,” O’Brien says that the
stories he tells may be entirely made up and forces us to decide
whether his characters and contentions are just as powerful and
valid if the facts behind them are simply made up. All of this commentary
serves to prove that sometimes, in storytelling, factual truth is
not as important as emotional truth.