The line between fact and fiction is clearly defined. Or is it?
In Travel Writing, author Peter Ferry weaves a complicated tale that may be speckled with elements of both. Of course, it’s a novel, so the whole thing is fiction. But our narrator’s name is the same as the author’s, implying at least some amount of autobiography. And there’s a story within the story, and that story may or not be true.
Confused? Don’t worry. It all begins to make sense as you go along. Or maybe it doesn’t, but you finally realize that may be the point: the fact/fiction line is blurry whenever there’s a story being told.
Travel Writing is laid out in two tenses: past and present. In the present, narrator Pete Ferry is a high school English teacher, trying to impart upon his students the importance of story-telling. His premise is that the power of a good story is independent of its literal truth.
To illustrate this, he tells a tale about a woman with whom he once briefly shared the road. This story, and the one that follows from it, takes place in the past.
The woman was obviously intoxicated, swerving all over the road. She may or may not have been naked (this he adds for the titillation of his adolescent students). The students listen with rapt attention, in spite of their teacher's repeated disclaimer that he’s making the whole thing up. They want to know what happened next, even though they know it isn’t true.
Then the narrator tells his readers he’s pulling pretty much the same business with them. “But it really did happen, of course, the girl in the car,” he writes, “or could have or might as well have happened.”
And just like the previously apathetic English students, the reader is interested, even though we know the story is made up. We knew that all along, because we picked up the book in the fiction section. But to have it presented like that, as a story whose value exists independently of its truth, really makes you think.