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frauds!

January 20, 2012

my friends have been busy sending me semi-clothed pictures of benedict cumberbatch (you know who you are….) so i guess i’ve been a bit distracted this week. but i just finished jt leroy’s “sarah” and apparently i’m supposed to have a lot of thoughts about this.

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soon after i finished this book, i got a flurry of twitter messages from people asking me if the book had stood up to hype of the hoax, or simply asking me if i knew that leroy was, in fact, a “hoax.” i was totally confused. i picked this book up at another story bookshop on the direction of the shop attendant, because i had asked her for a mix of “cormac mccarthy, faulkner, and weirdness”. clearly, that girl knew what she was looking for. thank goodness for that! the blurb on the back of the book sold me, and the first page sold me even further. i didn’t know anything about leroy at the time because i’m not a name-shopper when it comes to books – i only read the sisters brothers because my father had it around the house, and i’m only planning on reading half-blood blues because my mum has a copy. i don’t believe in buying a book solely because the person who writes it has specific credentials or experience. i buy a book based on the recommendations of friends, and the way the cover looks (oh my goodness i buy books based on their covers…) and how the book is described on the back, and how the first page feels. one of my professors once told me “if a book bores you after fifty pages, THROW IT ACROSS THE ROOM!” which is the best advice i’ve ever gotten re: reading and literature. anyway, i got the book because it’s about gender-bending lot lizards, not because of leroy.

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i had to crop this because i was wearing a very unflattering toque.

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but i GUESS that there’s some guff surrounding leroy. who isn’t a man at all, but actually a woman. and i guess that when “sarah” came out in 2000 it was taken as a semi-autobiographical work, because leroy had a backstory of prostitution and drug use and abandonment quite like the main character in this book. i missed this… completely. which is probably not a great thing for a writer in this day and age to admit, but considering this came out when i was 13 i wasn’t in the right age group to read it or be aware of the “fraud.” which is a tricky words to use.

i answered my twitter messages as best i could: i answered that i hadn’t known about the furore, so – for me – the writing stood as was. i have a copy of the 2001 paper edition of “sarah”, which was before the expose (october 2005) and yet there is no hint on the blurb or inside the cover that this book is supposed to even be remotely autobiographical. so what’s the big deal?! i admit that i didn’t follow that james frey stuff that happened, but i surmise that the public is really angry when they find out that they’ve been lied to. nobody wants to look like a fool (especially not oprah). i’d need to read the book (million little pieces) to make any sort of educated comment on this, and since i haven’t i’ll hold off, but i mean… really… even creative non-fiction has elements of untruth in it. come on. you can’t expect to read something that’s completely true anymore. it’s either a glorious or sad fact of our society, but i can’t decide which. frey falls into a different category because he marketed his work as a memoir, but it’s still all related, i think.

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i mean… we’re all frauds. all of us writers, fiction or non or poets or whatever. i’m writing about a gay man based in another part of the world in a totally different time period. every day i feel like a fraud, capische? i guess the difference is that i’m not saying that i’m actually a gay man who lived in that time period… but someone reading my book might think that i’m a liar and a shit. i think that people make inferences without even educating themselves – that they assume that a writer feels that they have a RIGHT to write about what they are writing about. i don’t feel that i have a right, but i feel a pressure in some unidentifiable place inside of me to write about what i’m writing about. but readers will often assume that writers have a high and mighty need to subvert… maybe. i’m not sure. we’re all writing about things we don’t know about. some of the most beautiful pieces i’ve ever read in workshops have been pieces that people have made up entirely – i mean, all writing is based in some form of truth, and we put parts of ourselves into everything we do write, whether we want to or know it or not, but more often than not we try to make something up entirely and sometimes it’s pretty great.

laura albert said that she made leroy – who she describes as a “veil” – so that she could write about things that she felt she couldn’t write about as a woman, as herself. how is that any different from garth brooks putting out his ill-fated cd as “chris gaines” or nicki minaj rapping as “roman zolanski”? the difference seems to be diclosure – people get angry when they look like fools. the public is aware that roman is an alter ego. they weren’t aware that leroy was one. honestly, who flippin’ cares!? GOOD WRITING IS GOOD WRITING.

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my final word on this book – “sarah” – is this: i was totally entranced. this writing was thick and cloying and powerful, the plot so twisted and full of a perverted magical realism. for a debut novel, this is great, “fraud” or no. i wonder if people might be even angrier about the “fraud” thing because this writing is so good. i wonder if it might be part jealousy. because leroy’s debut was – and still is – scintillating.

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