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The Lifespan of a Fact

John D'Agata, Jim Fingal

4 Reviews

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Literary essays, Publishing industry & book trade

A laugh-out-loud literary duel between a liberty-taking writer and his steadfast fact-checker.

'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

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Praise for The Lifespan of a Fact

  • A fascinating and dramatic power struggle over the intriguing question of what nonfiction should, or can, be. - Lydia Davis

  • Genius . . . In The Lifespan of a Fact, D'Agata and Fingal turn everything around on us until even our most basic assumptions are left unclear . . . A vivid and reflective meditation on the nature of nonfiction as literary art. - LA Times

  • Less a book than a knock-down, drag-out fight between two tenacious combatants, over questions of truth, belief, history, myth, memory and forgetting. - New York Times Book Review

  • A singularly important meditation on fact and fiction, the imagination and life, fidelity and freedom. Provocative, maddening, and compulsively readable.

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