This week's New Yorker features a letter from Mandee Wilton of Ringoes, NJ. Ms. Wilton writes to complain about "Landfill," a recent work of fiction by Joyce Carol Oates, details of which are "partly drawn from the case of John A. Fiocco Jr., 19, who went missing in March from The College of New Jersey. His body was later found in a Pennsylvania landfill." Ms. Wilton is not alone in her displeasure; the College has also complained about the story, suggesting that it caused pain to the community. New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman responded that, "While there is a long history of fiction drawing on factual events, we regret it if the overlap here caused any distress," Treisman said.
There are some big issues at play here: When and how is it appropriate for art to draw on real-life tragedy? Should fiction make a special effort to separate itself from actual events? Why the fuck does Joyce Carol Oates write so much, and can't anyone make her stop? Regardless, we're a little disappointed with the New Yorker's response: You'd think a magazine that published one of the greatest stories ever drawn from life might be a little more robust in its defense of the practice.