OD: Docufictions by Harold Jaffe 0 Comments

OD: Docufictions by Harold Jaffe

American writer Harold Jaffe has never been afraid to combine the genres of fiction and documentary. In 15 Serial Killers (2003), he takes on the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Henry Kissinger. In Jesus Coyote (2008), he provides a fictionalised account of the Manson family murders. OD: Docufictions is Jaffe’s latest offering of fact-inspired fiction, released in 2012 by the Journal of Experimental Fiction Books.

The premise of OD is a fascinating one: to document the lives of various cultural icons who died of a drug overdose or were otherwise invested in drugs. Both high culture and pop culture are represented, with Aldous Huxley, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, and Edgar Allan Poe being among the subjects featured in Jaffe’s docufictions.

At their best, these docufictions are dynamic and experimental. One of my favourites is ‘Norma Jeane’, the Marilyn Monroe story, which opens with a catalogue of Monroe’s lovers and closes with a meditation on cinema and sexuality. Other standouts include a story about Diane Arbus, in which the detachment of the photographer is juxtaposed with the humanity of her subjects, and ‘Jonestown’, in which Jaffe explores the cult of Jim Jones in characteristically pithy language.

‘Jim Jones is a master pastor: Elvis hips, hyper-emotional delivery, diamond pinky rings, strong cologne, dark sunglasses, weeping while playing the piano…
And he knows how to sweat.’

Not all of Jaffe’s docufictional experiments are so engaging. In ‘Poe’, an unknown narrator stalks a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe lookalike through the streets of Baltimore, with mixed results. In ‘Sonny Liston/ Lead Belly’, the lives of African-American boxer Sonny Liston and blues musician Lead Belly are overlapped, somewhat confusingly. While all of Jaffe’s docufictions blend speculative and sensationalistic elements, some do so more seamlessly than others.

Reading OD, I often found myself investing more in the stories whose subjects I was already familiar with. For this reason, I would recommend OD to readers with an interest in both high and pop cultural icons. Jaffe’s docufictions are also a great read for anyone curious about experimenting with fact and fiction.


Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a fiction editor at Voiceworks. She likes butterflies, lace, tarot cards and true crime. Find her here.

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