It's happened again. Some mendacious writer decided to do some slumming by proxy, and claim the experience as her own. Worse, she justified her lies by stating, "I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don't listen to."
And naturally, I've got commentary...
A memoir by a white woman who claimed she was raised in poverty by a black foster mother and sold drugs for a gang in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood has turned out to be pure fiction, a newspaper report says.
In "Love and Consequences," published last week by Penguin Group USA imprint Riverhead Books, author Margaret B. Jones writes about growing up as a half-white, half-Native American girl in South-Central Los Angeles in the foster home of Big Mom. One of her foster brothers, she writes, was gunned down by Crips gang members outside their home. Jones also writes of carrying illegal guns and selling drugs for the Bloods gang.
The publisher has recalled all copies of the book and has canceled Jones's book tour, which was to begin on Monday.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is white and grew up in a well-off area of San Fernando Valley in California with her biological family, the Times says. She attended a private Episcopal day school and never lived with a foster family or sold drugs for a gang.
Jones admitted to the Times that her memoir was fully fabricated. Many of the experiences recounted in the book, she told the newspaper, were based on the experiences of friends she had met while doing anti-gang outreach in Los Angeles.
The "Love and Consequences" scandal follows last week's discovery that the Holocaust memoir "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years," by Misha Defonseca, was a fake. Two years ago, James Frey, the author of an Oprah Book Club selected memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," admitted he had made up or exaggerated details about his drug addiction and recovery.
As a person who would love to have been published by Riverhead books and be off on a whirlwind book tour, my thoughts on this new literary embarrassment are:
-When the hell is the publishing industry going to wake up and realize that "real life" rarely has a juicy narrative arc?
-When the hell are today's readers going to dispense with the notion that non-fiction books best reflect human experience?
If you look at some of the books have taught us the most about ourselves, that have accurately described the times in which we live, they are novels. "The Great Gatsby" beautifully depicts the social whirl of the 1920s, and the emptiness that ensued. "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" perfectly describes the boredom and displacement felt by the men who were returning from World War II. All these years later, "Catcher in the Rye" still evokes teenage angst in a way that transcends generations. And some of Stephen King's works practically define America's late 20th century fears-technology run amok, the disintegration of the family, the perils of fame.
These stories did not have to be true to convey authenticity. Of course elements were drawn from real life experience; that's intrinsic to any writer's work. But these books were obviously never sold as real life accounts. They were just superbly written, and readers could identify with the characters, because the stories felt real. If there is honesty in a novel, the truths revealed can be far more powerful than a stack of memoirs. But unlike the real world which they seek to reflect, novels can cut out the dull details, and whisk us away from our shitty subway ride or cubicle lunch break.
Oscar Wilde once said, "What art really reveals to us is nature's lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutley unfinished condition."
It's no wonder memoirs turn out to be riddled with lies. The daily grind just isn't up to artistic standards.
Life, it turns out, isn't ready-made for best sellers.