Talbot herself sums up the truth-vs.-fact argument succinctly. “‘Metawriting makes its own rules’ is one of the central concepts of this anthology,” she writes. “And ‘metawriting moves the conversation forward’ is one of its goals.” It’s hard to say whether the anthology meets that particular goal, perhaps because “the conversation” is such a nebulous concept. Better, instead, to take things on a case-by-case basis. For example, as much as A Million Little Pieces moved me when I first read it, its factual inaccuracies make it difficult to take Frey seriously as a nonfiction writer.

After reading Metawritings it’s easier to understand how a manipulation like Frey’s could happen. The difference between Frey and the writers here is that they’re up front about what factual changes they’ve made in their essays. Maybe A Million Little Pieces would hold up if Frey grappled with truth-vs.-accuracy on the page. Whether that tack would have worked within the narrative is anyone’s guess.

When My Friend Leonard, the follow-up to A Million Little Pieces, was released, I took a pass. Seven years and one reading of Metawritings later, it’s still not on my list.

There is one dud in this collection, and that’s Lena Dunham’s “Excerpts from Creative Nonfiction.” Written in screenplay form, it focuses on its writer’s thoughts and actions and the screenplay the writer is attempting to write (say that five times fast). Unfortunately, its lead character is just as uninteresting as the script with which she’s struggling.

In the script, a woman is held captive by a college professor. She then flees. He follows and pops up again and again like an unkillable movie villain. She shoots him. The end. It’s written with a wink and a nod, but it’s dull.

(But as Hemley and Talbot say in the question-and-answer section following Hemley’s essay, there’s no such a thing as an unexceptional subject, just unexceptional writing. Chalk this up to unexceptional writing and skip it.)

There are probably some readers out there who wonder whether these essays are just excuses for writers to eat their own tails and be praised for it. I certainly did. Ultimately, I was assuaged by the overall quality of the work within Metawriting’s pages. These are thoughtful, gripping pieces that deserve to be read, re-read and pondered until, hopefully, Talbot edits a follow-up anthology that’s just as good.

 

David Riedel is a writer in Boston.