Last week I featured the familiar unreliable narrator story, the one where we judge ourselves harshly and thus tell an unreliable story of our accomplishments.
As I reflected on this story in conversations with readers, I was reminded of an unreliable narrator of a different sort that can be equally misleading. In this version, the narrator tells a story of accomplishments that may also be lies, i.e., the flip side.
As a reminder, the unreliable narrator is a storyteller who withholds information, lies to, or misleads the reader, casting doubt on the narrative. Authors use this device to engage readers on a deeper level, forcing them to come to their own conclusions when the narrator’s point of view can’t be trusted.
In the flip side story, the narrator has convinced himself (or herself) that s/he is bulletproof.
A while back, I watched two documentaries, both of which chronicled storytellers who were later indicted for fraud, Billy McFarland, founder of Fyre Media, and the Fyre Festival creator and Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos. Perhaps because I watched them back to back, I was struck by the common themes.
Both founders passionately believed in their stories and told them well, so well, that investors and buyers flocked to them. Except their stories were lies. These two founders were unreliable narrators that were so good at their craft that the observer didn’t see that the narrator’s view could not be trusted.
One can easily dismiss these dramatic stories as intentional fraud. I wonder, though, whether these storytellers and others like them set out to commit fraud or believed so passionately in their stories that they were blind to the facts.
Less dramatically, there are the people we know who confidently share their successes, which seem real, until we look behind the curtain.
Regardless of the type of lies, the unreliable narrator holds us back and keeps us from telling our real story.