How true is that fiction?

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“The trouble with fiction… is that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.” – “John Rivers” in The Genius and the Goddess (Aldous Huxley)

Case in point: someone messaged me with a link to a news story about a man who decided to live like a sheep for awhile. He created prosthetic legs to strap on to his arms, wore a helmet, and actually wandered around with a herd of sheep in some pastoral setting near the Alps. And he did this after determining the logistics for living as an elephant were not workable. Really. Oh, and a shaman was apparently the one who broke the news to him that he should be a sheep instead of an elephant, although I think the shaman was being kind and polite, while thinking that a jackass might be a better fit.

That is a true story. If I were to encounter the relation of this story in the midst of a larger novel, it would probably rock me out of the overall story. This is not because I think it so odd as to be unbelievable that someone did it – obviously, people do many, many odd things, often without any particular reason at all – but it’s so absurd that unless the novel itself were a satire or absurdist fiction, I think it would be rather jarring – after all, in reality, just how many people have thought, on their own, that someone would live as a sheep for a bit. This is why they (the mysterious “they”) say truth is stranger than fiction. In fiction, it takes work to suspend disbelief and enmesh yourself into the world created by an author, regardless of whether or not that author has populated a world that we would recognize. Anything that appears, like “man lives as sheep” in the course of a regular storyline would cause me, as a reader, to stop, step back, and ask what was going on there, disrupting the flow of the narrative. This is even while intellectually knowing such a thing could be, and probably has, been done.

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