NOW A BROADWAY PLAY STARRING DANIEL RADCLIFFE
'Provocative, maddening and compulsively readable' Maggie Nelson
In 2003, American essayist John D'Agata wrote a piece for Harper's about Las Vegas's alarmingly high suicide rate, after a sixteen-year-old boy had thrown himself from the top of the Stratosphere Tower.
The article he delivered, 'What Happens There', was rejected by the magazine for inaccuracies. But it was soon picked up by another, who assigned it a fact checker: their fresh-faced intern, and recent Harvard graduate, Jim Fingal.
What resulted from that assignment, and beyond the essay's eventual publication in the magazine, was seven years of arguments, negotiations, and revisions as D'Agata and Fingal struggled to navigate the boundaries of literary nonfiction.
This book includes an early draft of D'Agata's essay, along with D'Agata and Fingal's extensive discussion around the text. The Lifespan of a Fact is a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between 'truth' and 'accuracy', and a penetrating conversation about whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other.
'A fascinating and dramatic power struggle over the intriguing question of what nonfiction should, or can, be' Lydia Davis
An essayist (D'Agata) and his exasperated fact-checker (Fingal) debate the line between art and reality in this inventive fencing match. The text reproduces D'Agata's article (published in The Believer after another magazine killed it) about a teenager who leapt to his death from a Las Vegas hotel (an expanded version became the book About a Mountain), Fingal's Talmudic fact-checking commentary (reflected in the book's equally Talmudic design), and the authors' barbed e-exchanges on everything from the number of strip clubs in Vegas to the origins of tae kwon do and the existence of D'Agata's mother's cat. Invoking poetic "rhythm" and "emotional truth," D'Agata cheerfully admits to embroidering the story with factoids; meanwhile, Fingal's efforts to verify them, which required seven years and the help of medical journals, academic linguists, satellite photos, and field research, get wrapped up in their own crazed erudition and nit-picking while opening a fascinating window into the fact-checker's ingenious craft. In their lively, labyrinthine argument, Fingal seems the dogged conscience to D'Agata's preening writerly ego until Fingal realizes there may not be a reliable factual record to check. Very propos in our era of spruced-up autobiography and fabricated reporting, this is a whip-smart, mordantly funny, thought-provoking rumination on journalistic responsibility and literary license.