Saturday, November 17, 2007

Book 16: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

by J.T. Leroy

The real story is truly more fascinating than fiction. In the late 90’s, out of nowhere, a 19-year old male author by the name of JT Leroy publishes ‘Sarah’, a haunting semi-autobiographical tale about a boy and his white-trash teenage mother, who eked out a living as a truck-stop prostitute. The novel and the subsequent ‘The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things’, catapulted Leroy into cult literary stardom, gaining admirers and devotees from the likes of Gus Van Sant and Courtenay Love.

What's more, Leroy was apparently very shy and didn’t make any public appearances until well after the publication of 'Sarah', and even then, he was always seen wearing large dark sunglasses, a blonde wig and a black hat. This added to his mystique even more, but also fueled public speculation and doubt.

Then in late 2005, it all came crashing down. The details of possibly one of the most notorious literary hoax of recent years can be found easily on the internet, but in a nutshell, JT Leroy was revealed to be the persona of 34 year old Laura Albert. The sunglass-wearing public figure who claimed to be Leroy was actually the sister of Albert’s boyfriend, Susanna Knoop. A media fallout and instant notoriety ensued, not to mention withdrawn book deals, void movie contracts, inevitable lawsuits and criminal charges. Forget about continuing to perpetuate the myth of JT Leroy. Once the dust has settled, I’m sure Albert and/or Knoop will somehow manage to sign a lucrative movie deal about their fantastic hoax, if they haven’t done so already.

Ok, so now we got the notorious backstory out of the way and are aware that ‘The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things’ was not really written by a 19-year old former male prostitute, but instead, was the fictional imagining of an adult woman. The book still stands on its own as a literary work. Plus it’s got all the trappings of ‘underground cult’ appeal: teenage motherhood, prostitution, physical and sexual abuse, social and sexual deviancy, drug addiction, vagrancy, and road trips.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that reading this book was my cup of tea. White trash subculture has never really appealed to me, but I was always curious about the mythos of JT Leroy. Funny how it took me several years to read one of ‘his’ books, only to find out that Leroy was actually a fraudulent creation of a gutsy con artist. Still, I’m glad I read the book after the fact and with full awareness, as opposed to reading the book before the revelation, and then feeling like you’ve been had.

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