Literary superhero Chuck Palahniuk once suggested the success of his books depended on using truth to support fiction. One of his trademarks is to create situations that are just close enough to reality and surround them with well-researched details to create the illusion of truth in his blatantly nonsensical outcomes. Anyone who’s read Fight Club or Lullaby knows what he means, and knows just how effective a device this can be, and Palahniuk’s method has been reflected over and over again throughout the last fifteen years of popular fiction.
But what few seem to understand is that this is not a two-way process: you can use facts to support falsehood, but you can’t use falsehoods to support fact. Look what happened to James Frey and Herman Rosenblat when they tried this. Both were exposed as frauds, although Frey at least has a sense of humor about it.
So why in the world would Matt McCarthy, already educated at two of the finest institutions in the land and sidetracked by a brief stint as a minor-leaguer with the Angels, have reason to embelish? Could one summer as a farmhand really top Juiced, Perfect I’m Not or Ball Four? Would fictitious dirt on Tom Kotchman, Blake Allen or Joe Saunders really sell many more books than, say, a highly fictionalized version of a summer with fictionalized versions of Kotchman, Allen and Saunders? Sure, McCarthy paints the Bobby Jenks of 2002 as an alcoholic racist, but everyone already knew the Bobby Jenks of 2002 was an alcoholic racist.
All things considered, embellished memoir is probably the lamest tier to aim for because (a) you’ll have to explain yourself twice over and (b) everyone will hate you.
I’ve never been a minor league baseball player, nor have most people out there, but you have to think at least something interesting happened in Matt McCarthy’s time in the sticks. Talk about the stress and unlikelihood of being drafted, talk about life after failed baseball dreams, talk about having Yale Medical School as a backup plan – anything, really, but if an arc like that wasn’t exciting enough to launch a true story, why bother saying it was?