I was at a literature conference a few years ago when someone asked a well-respected panelist what, in his opinion, made Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried so powerful.
“He was there,” the scholar said. “That pain and honesty, the way it’s translated from memory to page, you can’t fake that. Only a soldier who was present could have written it.”
Even then, sitting in that conference room, I thought the answer was the biggest load of shit I’d ever heard. Of course you can fake that—isn’t brilliant appropriation one of the goals of fiction?