Everyday gotta learn to live all over again…
—J.T. LeRoy on his blog, 8 January 2006
J.T. LeRoy lied to me. The deception LeRoy put on my doorstep is inconsequential when compared to others so my funkiness meter is on low. LeRoy recently has been accused of not being the person he marketed himself as. In his books, Sarah, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, and Harold’s End, and interviews LeRoy talked about his life in ways that would have made Dickens rewrite Oliver Twist. The original story is LeRoy started pulling tricks for truckers when he was 12. Sarah, his mother, was his pimp but she would gladly drop him off anywhere once a new man came her way. Soon he become a drug addict, HIV positive, but was saved from the mean streets of San Francisco by Laura Albert and her husband, Geoffrey Knoop. They become the family LeRoy always dreamed of; with therapy and love he put pen to paper burnishing his life into tales that gained literary currency and a movie deal.
As written by New York Times reporter Warren St. John last month, the truth is less Dickens and more Warhol. LeRoy’s fictions were written by Albert, a woman in her 40s, while her husband’s 20-something half sister, Savannah Knoop, played LeRoy in public with a wig and fabulous sunglasses (apparently she continued the charade at this year’s Sundance Movie Festival).
It would be easy to dismiss the LeRoy charade as just good old fun that tweaked the literati, but the family affair used a lot of people who believed in the stories and the person they thought wrote them.
“If the Times article is correct, then I was fooled by the J.T. LeRoy persona as much as anyone,” Dave Eggers told the San Francisco Chronicle. Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is one of the many luminaries who supported and praised LeRoy’s work. “I actually edited a story, “Harold’s End,” by LeRoy, and spent hours on the phone—with someone—going through a typical line-edit,” Eggers continued.
“I published J.T. I defended him in public, performed for him, responded to every editorial and hook-me-up request. I took Twilight Zone phone calls and tendered his frightening tantrums,” author Susie Bright wrote on her website in early January.
When compared to Bright and Eggers my LeRoy story is harmless, not even reaching the level of a made-for-TV movie. I’ve written two reviews of Leroy’s fiction. Both were favorable. Here is how I ended the first in 2002:
At the end of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, we have only Jeremiah, a character who has been raped, abused, and barely heard by anyone. Like the prophet, Jeremiah testifies although no one hears. He screams about the darkness Conrad hinted about and for a moment allows us readers to see the world that our reading lamps keep at bay. Leroy turns what is on the surface sociology and history into art, and this talent is why we readers should hope this prophet keeps talking about the gloom that is so nearer than we imagine.
Sure the tone is breathless and geeky; I’m both. I found LeRoy’s website and sent him an email to give him a heads up. The artist formerly known as LeRoy sent me this response:
Thanks again for your review. It is one I am particularly fond of. Thank you. J.T.
No need to lie. The 15 words gave me a hard-on. Like Nick Flynn’s father said in Another Bullshit Night in Suck City when writing to his son about a letter from Patty Hearst: “If you don’t think a letter from Patty Hearst is heavy—you are gone.” LeRoy’s email was heavy and I’ve turned to it after each email rejection from an editor.
Unlike James Frey, the disgraced memoir writer, LeRoy has chosen silence to explain these revelations. In his last entry on his blog posted a day before the Times article, LeRoy goes on about the coal mining tragedy in West Virginia and desolate streets during Christmas. But aside from this, the LeRoy camp is silent, sort of like Iago who spends the play scheming, planning, and killing but once caught lets the bodies be his mouthpiece: “From this time forth I never will speak word.”
Silence is straight from LeRoy’s fiction. There is no way to reason or talk to a mother who pimps you out, or a john who gets mad because you have issues about being literally shit on. There are only two options: you either walk away or get booted. Then you forge family ties with others whose family units are also less than Walton-esque. This is how LeRoy’s characters make it though a world that is not chartable. Maybe that is how the LeRoy machine will make it though this. Silence and the support of hardy friends who will forgive all and talk a lot of noise about “higher truths.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald would have recognized the LeRoy saga because it is purely American. Shedding one identity for another; having the official story, the one that is public, and then the inconvenient narrative under that. And let’s be honest: the young gender freak kid who has a mother as a pimp and survives to tell it all is a much sexier story than the middle class woman writing novels of street survival. Let’s be critical of the LeRoy corporation, but let’s also save some ire for ourselves because we so wanted it all to be true.