You might not be familliar with this story, but it has been all the rage in my City (San Francisco, California) for the last few months. The entore story can be easily Googled or can be read at this link (among others):
In a nutshell: Several years ago, a young writer appeared seemingly out of nowhere with a fictionalized roman a clef about his hard-scrabble childhood. Soon, the lurid details of the writer's life and the sensational aspects of his work combined to make him quite famous among the literati. This delicate young man was named JT Leroy and his story of having been a child prostitute forced to service men by his slatternly mother along the highways and byways of Red State America, picking up HIV along the way, helped his book (and subsequent ones) to sell well within their niche. Championed by such writers as Dave Eggers and Dennis Cooper, Leroy became a pal of rock stars and Hollywood actors, sold his story rights to filmakers and became a Garbo-esque fixture on the San Francisco book scene. Heart warming story, innit? Former hustler rises out of the gutters and makes it through the healing power of literature.
Except it wasn't none of it true. As has been recently uncovered, "JT Leroy", West Virginia born boy prostitute turned star writer, was actually Laura Albert, 40-ish New York born woman. Now, while I love a good con (and I had this one pegged very early*), this one raises some interesting moral questions.
Sure, the books were always marketed in the fiction section, so what's the harm, will say those in the pro-"Leroy" camp. And celebrities are idiots, who cares if Courney Love is made to look foolish? Authors use pseudonyms all the time. How is "JT Leroy" any different than B Traven or Maxim Gorkiy? On a certain level I somewhat agree with these people (except that most of them are holding those opinions because they were folled and laughing it off makes them look slightly less silly for falling for the old 8th grade "phone buddy" scam). Celebrities are idiots, the books were always shelved in the Fiction area of the bookstore and there is nothing wrong with the use of pseudonyms, per se.
However, on the other hand...
There is no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons these books sold so well was the louche background of the "author". Today, it seems as if nothing gets published if it doesn't have an angle that can sell it. Child prostitution and AIDS are two angles which basically sell themselves. Having attempted to slog through the author's "Sarah", I firmly beleive most people were reading it because it was purported to have been written by someone who was abused, beaten, ****ed and then ****ed again, not because it was a good book. Obviously, the backstory sold the book, not vice versa. Plus, being a up-from-your-brastraps transvestite hooker with HIV who overcame so much to live, let alone write books, pretty much makes your work bad-review proof. And the whole HIV angle really gets to me. Pretending to be ill with a terminal disease is both incredibly dishonest and very disrepectful of people who actually have to live with this status. I mean, seriously, how low can you go?
So, what do you all think?
*Since when do men lack an Adam's apple? On such tiny details do the best laid plans crumble.