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'A Big Enough Lie' by Eric Bennett: EW review

Posted on

A Big Enough Lie

type:
Book
Current Status:
In Season
author:
Eric Bennett
publisher:
Triquarterly
genre:
Novel

We gave it an A

What’s the psychology behind the impulse to present fiction, or quasi-fiction, as fact? Does a story that’s “true” confer legitimacy but, in the end, lack sufficiently juicy details? Do the writers—such as James Frey or, more recently, Primates of Park Avenue author Wednesday Martin—imagine they won’t get caught? These and other questions animate Eric Bennett’s scathing, delectable, and often brilliant first novel, A Big Enough Lie. Protagonist Henry Fleming writes a harrowing memoir of his time in Iraq, and an Oprah-like TV host selects it for her book club. Then it comes to light that the memoir was actually written by a young man named John Townley who has ripped off both Fleming’s story and identity. Chapters alternate between the fake memoir, which is poignant, hilarious, and superbly detailed, and the story of how the insecure and unassuming Townley perpetrated a major literary hoax. In between, Bennett skewers everything from the jingoistic yet distant American attitude toward war to the mores of a thinly veiled version of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where, full disclosure, Bennett and I overlapped as graduate students). But it’s not the satire that ultimately makes A Big Enough Lie so affecting—it’s the heart, which reveals itself in Townley’s decade-long crush on a girl with whom he exchanges letters so deeply felt you’ll yearn for the time before email and texting. In the end, Bennett’s most impressive trick is giving us a paean to writing and reading disguised as a condemnation of modern culture—and a depiction of literary fraud that’s completely authentic and original. A