This is astounding: In two days I have read three jaw-dropping stories about literary fakery that about blew me out of my chair. Something about this bugs me more even than Jayson Blair et al; sure, Blair and Glass made up stories they (and by extension, their very trusted and influential employers) claimed were fact. But knowing journalists, I sleep OK knowing that their profit from their lies was limited by the crap wages most young reporters get.
But the new information about James Frey and how he apparently completely fabricated huge chunks of his huge-selling memoir "A Million Little Pieces" and then sold the bunk to Oprah, who attatched her reputation to it, and sent it into the book sales stratosphere where it made him millions, well, that pisses me off. Little crack head criminal is really law-abiding and boring? What a fucker. I liked him better as an antisocial nihilist, but what can you do? Besides, dude, you lied to Oprah. Who knows what sort of secret army of image consultants-cum-assassins she may have in her employ.
The I read about JT Leroy, a local San Francisco writer known for having hitchhiked from West Virginia as a gay teenager, only to become a homeless drug-addicted male prostitute on Polk Street, until a local couple took him in, provided him therapy, treated his HIV, and launched his much lauded literary career, which began with his debut "Sarah" in 2000. Now, I'll admit I was told by those who know these things that he was a genius, and you had to admire his overcoming such circumstances. But the writing - it was SO self-referential and self-congratulatory and, well, ordinary that it pissed me off that I wrote better than him, but without a tragic backstory, no literary career for me.
So it emerges that Leroy, too, was a big fabricator - no wait ... a fabrication. He is not a real person. Someone (actually the couple who "took him in") made up the backstory to get a nice big agent and a fat advance check, along with lovely royalties. In his very few public appearances, the woman who appeared as Leroy always wore a wig and hat (and was it turns out, the sister of the man who said he had taken Leroy in as a teenager). I hear even his agent didn't know Leroy was a fictitious fiction faker. Sure, whoever wrote Leroy's stuff didn't suck. But it would never have gotten play without the context of the author's life. That pisses me off.
And in the NY Times Sunday Magazine, I learn that the dude who supposedly infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and wrote of his discoveries (the code language, the creepy rituals, the secrecy) in the 1950s, actually made up, embellished or confabulated most of his story. What he claimed to have witnessed was for the most part witnessed by a different man who reported back to the author. This was disturbing for the "Freakonomics" authors, who wrote a chapter on the guy to illustrate information asymmetry. And it irks the shit out of me when people who do great work, like exposing the Klan, discredit themselves with stupid acts of egotism.
So the lesson today is, don't believe a single word you read. Including this --> one.