The Art is Deceitful Above All Things

Over at the Times’ Paper Cuts blog the spectre of JT LeRoy is once again raised. You’ve got to hand it to Laura Albert, her machinations have ensured that this whole succès de scandale will not die, even though the thing is well past its sell-by date. Still. The entry is ostensibly about the news that Savannah Knoop, Albert’s sister-in-law and the public face of LeRoy, is publishing her memoir Girl Boy Girl in October. It is the hoax that keeps on giving! Soon everyone even tangentally related to the thing will have a book deal. Emailed LeRoy and bought a racoon penis bone? Here’s a book contract. Answered the phone at “his” psychiatrist’s office? Dish, girl!

Anyway. Cowles then gets to the ongoing crux of the thing:

Maybe if I had read LeRoy’s novels, I would have been as outraged as others were at the deception. Instead, I was baffled and maybe a little amused — the whole thing struck me as a creepy kind of performance piece.

But it does raise vexing questions about authenticity and art. If somebody loves a novel, does it really matter whether the author has an interesting life story? A memoir is one thing — as nonfiction, even “creative” nonfiction, it’s that much closer to journalism and the resulting assumption of truth — but really, a novel?

Ugh. I feel like I’ve already gnashed my teeth to nubs arguing this, so lucky me, one of the commenters echoes my feelings. Kick it, James:

To me it all boils down to the prose. I read “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” and felt like I was reading a freshman level writing piece. I think people gave JT the benefit of the doubt because the work was supposed to have been written by a 15-yr old. Bottomline, bad prose is bad prose. Too many similes, bad characterization. I completely gave up on JT/Laura Albert as a person when I read that she sought out the help of Mary Gaitskill, who told Leroy that she/he had some nascent talent but needed to write more and take his/her time. Albert’s response? That “JT” had AIDS and couldn’t wait. She clearly was using the tool of JT to push forth her own agenda.

Seriously, do not fuck with Mary Gaitskill. And also: maybe Cowles could’ve dipped into the LeRoy books a bit for some perspective? But really, at this point, does it matter? James Frey just published his “first” work of fiction, any publicity is good publicity, and Savannah Knoop can now appear at book signings not pretending to be a transgendered former teen hustler dying of AIDS. Everybody wins! Right?

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6 Responses to The Art is Deceitful Above All Things

  1. You’re so right about The Times’ odd fixation on this completely dead story. I’ve also been thinking a lot about this (or something closely related to it) mostly on account of having just finished the most recent Sedaris book (liked) and then Augusten Burroughs (didn’t like so much outside of a few moments), the point being that both clearly blur the line between fiction and memoir in ways that are ultimately meaningless outside of the hype machine. (OMG–true story–Augusten Burroughs “really” made a mess in the kitchen! His mother was depressed, and in real life!) It kind of reminds me of the hype actors (most recently, Matt Damon) get these days for adding/shedding serious poundage, as if that somehow enhances the quality of the movie.

  2. ephemerist says:

    @GR: Ugh. Somehow it remains evergreen. As for your examples of Sedaris and Burroughs? Agreed. Sedaris admits his essays are real-ish, he’s writing creative non-fiction. Obviously the skeleton he bought for his boyfriend didn’t really talk to him. And Burroughs is a little more straight memoir, which he seems to have run dry with. I liked parts of “Wolf” as well, but one reviewer suggested he should give the memoir a rest and pick up fiction again, a sentiment I agree with. The problem, I’m thinking, with the LeRoy thing is that reading the books, they were perceived as roman a clefs. You were impressed at times with the writing, or at least recognized the potential, as much as you were engrossed in the backstory of the author. It was like a litworld Make-a-Wish thing. The writing wasn’t terrific all the time, but there was some imaginative, compelling stuff. That coupled with the whole “transgendered AIDS thing” upped the sentiment. Then, after it was revealed it was a hoax, it was like, whoa. Listen, if Albert were concerned with actually perfecting her craft rather than rocketing to fame and collecting celeb friends like Burger King toys, she would have, well, worked on perfecting her craft. She’s a mentally unbalanced, hippie-ish former phone sex worker? She couldn’t have teased an accurate memoir out of that that would’ve enticed a publisher? C’mon.

  3. jasmin says:

    WHAT YOU REFERENCE IS A RUMOR: “she sought out the help of Mary Gaitskill, who told Leroy that she/he had some nascent talent but needed to write more and take his/her time. Albert’s response? That “JT” had AIDS and couldn’t wait”

    There is NO reliable source for this rumor. Where did you read this?

    Whether anyone considers it good prose or not is beside the point. The commentator who “[echoed your] feelings” wrote “To me it all boils down to the prose” but it seems like the discussion is focused on assessing Laura Albert’s character. Before we vilify her we should know if she ever even said this and, if so, in what context-there is no source for this that isn’t hearsay.

  4. ephemerist says:

    Fair enough Jasmin. And again, I was just echoing James’s assertion. But, first, are you the same Jasmin that also commented on the Times’ piece? The one another commenter accused of being Laura Albert? Because if not, you seem to have a lot of interest in commenting on blogs that reference LeRoy. (Aslo: incidentally in that Google search, there’s something on a message board that indicates someone with your email address is looking to get in touch with someone named Jean Eddings. The last time I mentioned LeRoy on this blog, someone named Jean Eddings left a lengthy comment. Coincidence?)

    In an interview with the Paris Review, Albert states: “I’d begun corresponding with the writer Mary Gaitskill, and she gave me immense positive feedback, but she was also the first person to be critical about my writing. She was directing me to all this great literature—Vladimir Nabokov and Flannery O’Connor—and I realized how much I had to learn. ” So perhaps she didn’t respond with that the character had AIDS, but she was given critical feedback.

    Now, then, she didn’t float the AIDS rumor as fact, but she did let it seep out and did nothing to counter it. Perhaps one of the other writers to whom she communicated with as LeRoy helped perpetuate it, since she flat out told him.
    Also from the Paris Review: “At the same time I reached out to a gay fiction writer whom I was just in awe of [Dennis Cooper?]. There were a lot of disturbing things in his books, transgressive sexual stuff, and the way he captured a teen’s loneliness and need really resonated with me. I called him using the name Terminator, and I spoke as Jeremy. He was someone I revered, but when I read my work to him on the phone, I understood that, as much as he liked my writing, he was also turned on sexually by the perversity and the abuse in the stories. So he started to turn our relationship into a sexual relationship. [snip]
    I had learned on the street from outreach workers that if you get into a dangerous sexual situation, you just tell the man you have AIDS—that was the last-resort survival strategy. So I finally put the brakes on and said I had AIDS and sores all over my body. It didn’t faze him at all. There are people who like to play along the edge. I was scared, but I was also relieved.

    So, there’s that. And the discussion of this Albert woman’s character is relevant, misattributed heresay whatnot quote notwithstanding.

  5. jasmin says:

    Yes, Jean Eddings is my mom-at the time of the post you saw i had not yet met her. My name is Jasmin Lim. Yesterday, I responded to the person that said I was Albert/JT. As soon as my comment posts-you can see several links that verify my identity. many people are interested in discussing Albert-people write lengthy and numerous blog post about her.
    In this comment I didn’t say that a discussion of Albert’s character wasn’t relevant Just that it was not accurate.

  6. ephemerist says:

    @Jasmin: Thank you. I think in regards to the discussion of accuracy, you’ve made your point with your comments. Let’s accept that as such and hope that the record reflects it as such.

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