Part coming-of-age story, part psychological thriller, part philosophical investigation, this unforgettable memoir traces the ramifications of a series of lies that threaten to derail the author’s life—exploring the line between truth and deception, fact and fiction, and reality and conspiracy.
Sarah’s story begins as she’s researching what she believes will be a book about her high school philosophy teacher, a charismatic instructor who taught her and her classmates to question everything—in the end, even the reality of historical atrocities. As she digs into the effects of his teachings, her life takes a turn into the fantastical when her wife, Marta, is notified that she’s been investigated for sexual misconduct at the university where they both teach.
Based in part on a viral New York Times Magazine essay, To Name the Bigger Lie follows the investigation as it upends Sarah’s understanding of what is true. She knows the claims made against Marta must be lies, and as she uncovers the identity of the person behind them and then tries, with increasing desperation, to prove their innocence, she’s drawn back into the questions that her teacher inspired all those years ago: about the nature of truth, the value of skepticism, and the stakes we all have in getting the story right.
A compelling, incisive journey into honesty and betrayal, this memoir explores the powerful pull of dangerous conspiracy theories and the pliability of personal narratives in a world dominated by hoaxes and fakes. To Name the Bigger Lie reads like the best of psychological thrillers—made all the more riveting because it’s true.
ADVANCED PRAISE FOR TO NAME THE BIGGER LIE
“A thrilling, labyrinthine and ultimately illuminating reckoning with what it feels like to be caught up in a vortex of post-truth, conspiracy, and lies, Sarah Viren’s To Name the Bigger Lie is a fascinating and deeply disturbing account of our contemporary age of weaponized falsehoods. That what most of us experience only through the news came for her life so personally makes for heart-in-throat reading. This is a memoir, yes, but it’s also a view into a terrifying aspect of modernity, and Viren’s ability to unspool complicated tangles for the reader is unparalleled.”
—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
“Sarah Viren’s To Name the Bigger Lie is a work of radical moral philosophy as much as a memoir of one woman’s confrontation with the seeming contradictions of certainty and doubt, truth and conspiracy, of the sometimes unbridgeable distance between the truth we know and the one we can prove. This is one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read — a beacon in these uncertain times.”
—Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings
“You don’t expect a book on the nature of truth to be so darn readable. I could not put this down. It’s like Schopenhauer meets Gone Girl. Viren chases into nightmarish places the rest of us try to avoid—she confronts shadows, emails monsters—and brandishes philosophers along the way to make sense of what’s unfolding. A breathless and edifying read. You come out of this book different, and also more connected to who you once were.”
—Lulu Miller, co-host of Radiolab and author of Why Fish Don’t Exist
“To Name The Bigger Lie is one of the most dynamic memoirs I’ve ever read. At the heart of this magnificent book is an incisive exploration of the concept of truth, a subject that, in an age of proliferating fake news, conspiracy theories, and coerced conflicts, couldn’t be more urgent.”
—Mitchell S. Jackson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Survival Math
“A personal and philosophical deep dive into the world of fake news and conspiracy theories, this book takes on the big questions about truth with in-depth research, empathy and humor.”
—Toni Jensen, author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land
“I’ve never read anything like To Name The Bigger Lie. A thriller? A philosophy book? A craft book? A perspective like Sarah Viren’s is what’s been missing from the debates around truths vs conspiracy. Viren has written a masterpiece.”
—Javier Zamora, author of Unaccompanied and Solito
Winner of River Teeth Book Prize
Named one of LitHub’s Favorite Books of 2018
Winner of a GLCA New Writers Award
Longlisted for the 2019 Pen/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award
Silver Winner in 2018 Foreword Indies Book of the Year Award
“This is a book about ownership. It begins with an essay about being given a man’s furniture while he’s on trial for murder and follows this study of the material with essays that consider corporeal, familial, and intellectual ownership as well. What does it mean to believe that a hand, or a child, or a country, or a story belongs to you? What happens if you realize you’re wrong? Mining her own life and those of others, Sarah Viren considers the contingencies of ownership alongside the realities of loss in this debut essay collection.”
PRAISE FOR MINE
“Sarah Viren is a writer of extraordinary wisdom and grace. Viren approaches her subjects–from beheadings to motherhood to the acquisition of Spanish mediated through a Spanish-language-Dr.-Phil-clone–with unsparing anti-sentimentality. She’s allergic to comforting illusions, attracted to uncomfortable truths. There’s a steadfast intelligence at work, a rationality almost scary in its unwillingness to bend toward bromide. And so I am always taken aback, in the end, when her essays–cunningly, imperceptibly–gather within themselves such stunning emotional power.” -Kerry Howley, author of Thrown
“In so many of the moments detailed in Sarah Viren’s insightful and inspiring essays, she walks across an ordinary day and stumbles into an extraordinary one. A dead (and disappearing) opossum, a bloody paper dove, the cast-off furniture of an accused murderer, and so on—all stuff that this writer suddenly somehow possesses or is possessed by. Ultimately a book about belonging, this nimble, beautiful collection helps us better understand ‘what we call ours but is never really ours to begin with.'” – Ryan Van Meter, author of If You Knew Then What I Know Now
“These essays are full of humanity, a reminder to try and understand others, and a call to recognize our impermanence and honor our connections with each other.” – Brevity magazine
“Viren’s ability to explore feeling so deeply without evincing upset is one of the things that makes the collection so unique. There is no polemic, even against an interview subject who professes the virtues of gay conversion therapy, or against the state of Texas where her Iowa marriage to her wife was “outright banned.” There is no panic in the prose, no recoil, and yet the reader instinctively feels both.” – the Iowa Review
“Sarah Viren’s debut collection is a wonder. Her essays, in their investigations of life and belonging, are lyric and surprising—and above all else, deeply moving.” –LitHub
“At turns funny, brash, heartbreaking, Viren is always, it seems to me, honest as she crafts essays that reveal to herself, and to us, that one of life’s main lessons is that nothing we so badly desire truly belongs to us.” –Jessie van Eerden, author of The Long Weeping
INTERVIEWS ABOUT MINE
With Mesha Maren in The Rumpus, December 2018
With Clinton Crocket Peters in the Oxford American, August 2018
Cielos de córdoba (Córdoba Skies) by Federico Falco, a translation by Sarah Viren of Falco’s novella, was published by Ploughshares Solos in the spring of 2016. The book, set in the Córdoba region of Argentina, tells the coming-of-age story of a little boy named Tino, whose parents own a UFO museum. Ploughshares describes the novella this way:
“When 11-year-old Tino isn’t sitting quietly in school, he’s either visiting his dying mother in the hospital or making sure his UFO-obsessed father eats dinner. A loner among his peers, Tino is surprised when Omar, the strongest boy in school, befriends him out of the blue. Will Tino’s intrigue outweigh his self-imposed isolation? Written by Federico Falco and translated from Spanish by Sarah Viren, “Córdoba Skies” is coming of age story similar to the river Tino likes to play in: inviting and winding, yet not without the occasional burst of rapids.”
Federico Falco is an Argentine poet and fiction writer. His book Lahora de los monos was chosen as one of the best Argentine books of 2010 by the magazine Revista Ñ. His stories have been widely published and anthologized, including in Granta magazine’s anthology of The Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists and in Open Letter’s 2012 book The Future is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction. Falco is a graduate of the Spanish-language creative writing MFA program at New York University and, in 2012, he was a visiting writer with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. His translated stories have appeared invarious U.S.-based literary magazines including the Massachusetts Review and Kenyon Review Online.