New YorkerWhile reading Junot Diaz’s story “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” in the July 23 New Yorker, I became convinced that it must be auto-biographical. Now, I know little about Diaz’s personal life and didn’t bother to do much research after reading it. But something in the tone or content – about a faithless Dominican man who blows his relationship to his girlfriend and comes to regret it – set off that tingle, that spidey sense telling me this wasn’t purely an invention. What it was I couldn’t say except perhaps an accumulation of odd details that seemed too peculiar to be fictive.

Regardless, the question I have is whether a writer can create that mimetic sensation through skill/craft, or if it requires self-revelation. All fictionalists strive for that sense of “so real it must be,” but when one achieves it our first instinct is to cry foul. “Autobiography thinly disguised as fiction” is a common complaint, yet how do we know, and does it matter?