Stranger than Fiction: When novels become attack ads
Now that the mid-term elections are over, editorials and opinions are being flung around like crap from a monkey's cage. While most of this writing will disappear into the ether, one essay worth reading is "Stranger Than Fiction" by Kathleen Parker. While the essay is nominally about the Virginia Senate race between Sen. George Allen and Jim Webb, Parker takes a unique look at how Webb's fiction writing was used to attack him during the contest.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran, has written a number of novels drawing on his personal experience as a US Marine in Vietnam, including 1978's Fields of Fire (ranked by some literary critics among the best novels of the Vietnam War). As might be imagined about any fiction focusing on this war, Webb's novels contain many disturbing elements, all of which Webb states he personally witnessed.
During Webb's campaign for the senate, his opponent selected a number of disturbing passages from Webb's novels to demonstrate that Webb was unfit for office or, at least, had a questionable character. Parker decries this attempt at using fiction to analyze a writer’s inner self. In addition, she forcefully denounces the literal mindset which sees fiction in the same vein as reality.
As she says, "The impulse that invites such a witless interpretation of fiction comes from the same dark ignorance that fuels the self-ratifying fanaticism of radical Islam. Literalism is the enemy of civilization, and that is no fiction."