When Fiction becomes Life

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Mark O’Connell tells a fascinating story in The Millions about his encounter with a recently released murderer, Malcolm MacArthur.

O’Connell grew up hearing and reading stories about MacArthur murders, but his favorite is a fictional novel, The Book of Evidence, whose main character, Freddie Montgomery, is based on MacArthur.

For O’Connell, what was so strange about seeing MacArthur was that his perception of him was blurred by the fictional Montgomery. O’Connell says:

It was strange enough to chance upon this fabled murderer in a tweed jacket, who had once hidden from the law in the home of the country’s most senior legal officer, separated from my grandparents by a few inches of interior wall. But the simultaneous experience of seeing, and being seen by, a character from a novel I had spent so much time reading and thinking and writing about was somehow stranger still. Of course, Malcolm MacArthur is not Freddie Montgomery…Fiction and truth can inhabit the same places at once, and the same bodies.

According to O’Connell, MacArthur is well educated and likely read The Book of Evidence. It’s curious what MacArthur thought about Montgomery, his fictional alter self. Was he upset about how his fictional self was portrayed; or did he too find himself blurring into Freddie Montgomery?


Pat Johnson is currently working on his master’s in Fiction Writing at San Francisco State University, and is the owner and editor of the satirical news website The New Porker. When Pat’s not reading or writing he’s likely squeezing a lime into a Tecate and headed to the dance floor. He also creates short films, documentaries, and sketch comedies. Pat is completing his first novel, The Virgin and Marilyn Monroe, and writing a book of Creative Non-Fiction short stories. More from this author →