I’ve been busy thinking about the costs of being a reliable narrator, and wondering if being a reliable narrator necessitates not being ourselves. In Alice Sebold’s Lucky, a memoir of Sebold’s rape and its aftermath, there are heartbreaking details about how carefully she must present herself to be believed.
Early in the memoir Sebold is not believed by a police officer, and as she engages the legal system and becomes a witness she makes very conscious choices about how to present herself. The telling detail here is the nylons Sebold chooses to wear to court. They are nude, not black, and borrowed from her college dorm’s RA because she does not want to appear slutty. Certainly cultural or institutional sexism influences this choice. However, I’m merely going to acknowledge this and move on.
My question is: How does one narrate the mental illness experience truthfully and wholly, yet still believably?
I think the best answer to this question is that one portrays the struggle fully. Sebold does this well. She shows the artifice she adopted to be believed and is clear in her narrative as to why she’s adopted it.
When the police officer does not believe her she does not sneak this rupture in belief past the reader, she explains it fully and truthfully. So, the take away then is to make the struggle visible.
For information on upcoming Writing Mental Illness classes please visit my class page.