Monday, January 09, 2006

J.T. Leroy

This is the big news in the lit world today after an article in the NY Times claiming JT Leroy is a fake.

We should reserve judgement a trifle-- because the hoax itself could be a hoax.

What I know: I was recruited by a fairly well-known novelist to write a review of Leroy's first novel for Bookforum. The story I got is that she had met the very young individual in San Francisco. He'd begun writing as therapy, on a suggestion from a social worker or psychiatrist. The writer recommended him for an advance, apparently, based on the life story he related to her, and on mere scraps of paper.

Was it a scam?

If so, it took a long time to play out. Many many hours were invested in it, through personal meetings with famous authors and countless long phone conversations. The "payoff" was by no means immediate-- it took Leroy a couple years to come up with a finished product, which required help from the famous writers.

Still, something about the book struck me as not quite authentic or right-- the way the teenage prostitute was portrayed seemed aimed at the literary gentry. As I put in my review (some of my remarks edited before publication), there was nothing remotely glamorous about truck compound "lot lizards"-- they were in fact very pathetic creatures. (I'd encountered such in Detroit when I worked for a time in the freight forwarding business.)

Real or not, Leroy gave the literati what they wanted to hear.

Was J.T. Leroy a fake? If so, it was done as a joke. The money gained-- $20 thou?-- wouldn't justify the time invested if the jokesters were ordinary con artists out for money.

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