Fiction Daily.
A blog on writing, writers and why we read. Posted most mornings by Marion Blackburn.
Death of a pretender
A writer once said some good writing is sincere ... and some is not ... some very genuine writers are bad, while some shallow writers are very readable.

What to do with one writer, who wasn't very good, who conned the world?

The courts have decided what to do with the author, Laura Albert, who invented a sad teen-age boy named J.T. LeRoy and pretended he existed, while penning "his" books herself.

She has been sued for nearly half a million dollars in court costs and damages for defrauding a movie company. She admits she can never write or publish again, because any earnings would be seized. This week's Rolling Stone has a thorough investigation and interview with Ms. Albert.

I am generally unmoved by con artists of any kind. For some reason, this case struck a nerve. I imagine it's because I felt from the start that "J.T. LeRoy" was a huckster who knew how to play the trend card, who was not what he seemed. It was eerie.

Starting about 1997, Ms. Albert began passing writings off as those of LeRoy, who was gravely sexually abused as a child and now worked as a prostitute. And he was HIV-positive.

Stars and literati flocked. "Sarah," was the first novel by LeRoy. I once briefly thumbed through it back when everyone thought LeRoy was real. Even then, I found it repellent, contrived and mediocre. It also had an especially distasteful element of child abuse.

The whole shabby story struck me as something that shouldn't be considered literature at all. I also had problems with "Lolita," and still do. But good friends who are deeply engaged writers have defended it by saying, "Yes,the story is repugnant, but that it is done beautifully proves the art." In the end, I had to concur. Though I still believe that novel would not be so elevated if women were making more decisions about what makes literature.

Back, then, to Ms. Albert. She has said that she felt no one would listen to her -- a middle-aged, overweight, woman, so she felt she had to adopt a more acceptable, attractive, persona -- a teen-age boy. She may have a point there.

Yet once she was heard, she should have dropped the ruse and let her writing stand up to the critics the way all writing must, eventually. It will either pass or fail on its own strength and not the deceit behind it.

In the end, she deceived people. Took their money, took their goodwill. For that, she is paying.

Having to pay such steep fines is bad ... but to be robbed of the ability to write, to hope for future readers, could be the most terrible punishment of all.

2007-11-20 14:27:30 GMT
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