To the editors:
Reading the ["First Person: A Waif at My Door"] story in the February 26 issue of Chicago Reader I was filled with horror and sadness by the way the kindness of people is exploited by clever individuals. But then as I read on to the end, I started wondering why the credibility of this story as a real personal experience was not questioned by the editors of the Reader.
The author herself realized that as she related Margery Davis's sad story, there were a lot of loopholes in it, but as she didn't want to seem too gullible--she assures us that she herself didn't believe it; as opposed to this though, we, the readers, have realized that owing to the fact that the author didn't have this experience at all, is the reason the story sounds unbelievable. But why did this author want to plant in our hearts this seed of doubt and make us turn our backs to persons who might be in real need? Or, is it possible that the author wants to present that reality is stranger than fiction?
For even if we were told that this story is fiction, we would still think that it lacks credibility, and we must tell the author that she didn't think her plot out sufficiently, since fiction, even allegorically, should always be based on realistic concepts. A talented author can get us interested in his story even if the story is fantasy with dragons and angels in it, and even that an angel came (in flesh) to the assistance of someone in the story, provided the author can convince us that there is a real need for it; or, at the least, to convince us that's what the author really believes.
As opposed to this, the author of "First Person" does not convince us that there was a dire need for giving Margery the $46 she was begging for.
In addition, people do not usually buzz strangers into their buildings, however trusting these individuals might be; unless, the person who buzzes in strangers without asking questions, thinks nothing of it to ring the apartment bells of strange people. Of course, Jehovah's Witness do ring people's bells sometimes, but they hardly expect to be buzzed in without being asked to identify themselves. In fact, they themselves will be afraid to enter if they are buzzed in without questions. Moreover, I doubt whether they ring bells of people living on the fifth or sixth floor. As for subscription solicitors, they usually call on the phone instead of coming to people's houses.
Therefore, if this story were fiction, it would have been more credible if the narrator, on her way out--say to do some shopping--had met this woman on the outside steps of her building crying about her hard luck. As to Margery's saying that she had to have $46 in order to buy diapers and formula, it also lacks credibility since a calculating liar knows she is not going to be believed. A habitual liar knows she has more chances to be believed if she said, for example, that her electricity will be turned off because she didn't have the money to pay the bill (about $33) and she would add $10-12 to that for diapers and formula--enough to last through the weekend till the charitable organizations will open up--to arouse the sympathy of the listener that there is a baby there. A trained liar might even ask for more money by adding--say $50 she presumably still owes to the landlord from her last month's rent.
However, why was not the author surprised that the presumably desperate mother didn't seem concerned at all that her baby be provided with these basic necessities, but only about the social worker's coming on Monday, since by then she could ask for help from Charity organizations?
Finally, why did the author think that the young men she saw on a porch in the real Margery Davis's building were ruffians? And if she can be such a good judge of people just by seeing them from so far away, how is it that she had parted with her $50 just by being told this unbelievable story? Well, maybe even real people are stranger than fictional characters and this author seems to be one of them!
Laurel DiGangi replies:
All events in my story are factual, including the insignificant details that Ms. Athanasiades is so oddly obsessed with. If she chooses, she can rewrite my nonfiction for "credibility's sake." Yet she really should leave Margery's fiction alone. Margery is doing a splendid job without her.