Talking to Joyce Carol Oates on the Way to the Airport About Fiction’s Blurry Borders

Mar 14, 2023
Dimitris Passas

NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: Literary Hub (by Jesse Lee Kercheval).

“You fucking bitch,” Jo Beth said. Her breath hung in the air. She pressed a finger into my chest. I looked down and realized what I’d thought was her finger was a gun.

I wrote those lines in a short story, “Alice in Dairyland,” which was published in a magazine. Then I put the short story in a book, The Alice Stories, which was also published. Published both times as fiction. But the story is true. I am Alice. Or I am partly Alice. Or I am not really Alice at all. And that, for me is always the question. What is true? What is the difference between nonfiction and fiction?

Both in real life and the short story, an acquaintance called and asked for a ride. It’s her lover who confronted Alice/ me in the parking lot. In the short story, “Alice in Dairyland,” this takes place in Madison, Wisconsin where I lived when I wrote the story and where I live now. It is winter—thus the breath hanging in the air.

In real life, it took place in Tallahassee, Florida, a place where, most people who have ever lived in Florida would agree, it seems more likely. Especially the next part. The woman who was about to shoot me had a cross around her neck and, though I did not believe in God, I went down on my knees and started saying the Lord’s Prayer. And she went down on her knees next to me with a thud, crying. Then she hugged me, hard. Got up and drove away in her pick-up truck.

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