Book Review | The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal

coverDid I like The Lifespan of a Fact? That’s a hard question to answer and I’m scared if I do answer it Jim Fingal will come tear my words apart and show the inaccuracy in every tiny little opinion I have.

What I can tell you is that I’ve never read anything even remotely like this before. The premise is that John D’Agata has written an essay about the suicide of a 17-year-old boy named Levi, and Jim Fingal has been hired to fact check it.

I’ve read varying accounts about how “real” the story is, but the book is laid out like this:


D’Agata’s written an . . . essay I’ll guess we’ll call it? And after basically every paragraph in it, Fingal either agrees or disagrees with the accuracy of it. Some people are apparently upset because a lot of it was punched up for dramatic effect, which is interesting considering how much of the book is taken up with D’Agata and Fingal arguing back and forth about whether or not it’s appropriate / acceptable to take liberties with facts.

Like I said, I’ve never ready anything like this. At first it was fascinating and I enjoyed the insight into what it’s like both to be a fact-checker working with someone who’s defensive and resistant to any changes at all, and what it’s like to be a writer who’s written a (very) creative non-fiction piece and have a pedant come in and argue tiny, unimportant after tiny, unimportant point.

I went back and forth on these dudes, agreeing with one for a while, getting annoyed with him, and swinging over to the other camp. D’Agata didn’t seem to understand that the huge liberties he was taking with this real life suicide could be considered not just inappropriate but pretty fucked up. Fingal didn’t seem to understand that saying a tower was 750 feet tall, when it was actually 752, was probably not worth complaining about for an entire page.

While I did initially find the premise to be interesting, it got pretty tedious pretty quickly. I think this book would have been better as a chapter in a longer work because really all there was was an idea, and though it was an interesting one, that idea didn’t warrant an entire book to get its point across.

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