Another embarrassment for The New York Times as they finally ‘fess up to the apparent fact that their literary wunderboy, JT Leroy, isn’t a boy, isn’t an author and doesn’t exist at all. The androgynous, possibly transgendere,d, HIV-positive former child prostitute who only speaks to the press via telephone and makes appearances in dark glasses and long blond wig is actually the figment of a couple of rock ‘n’ rollers from Brooklyn.
The wife writes the books, mom collects the checks and the sister-in-law impersonates JT in public. Ha!
(Here’s a shot of the sis--on the right-- without hat and shades, that convinced the Times.)
We never read any of his books. But we’ve read a lot about the mysterious author in a lot of hip and snobby pages like the New York Times. The “mystery” surrounding JT Leroy always seemed to be an obvious scam and everyone--meaning the writers of the articles and the people who showed up at his appearances-- all seemed to be in on the joke.
(Interesting sidebar: The couple behind the Leroy game, Laura Albert and her husband Geoffrey Knoop, have a band called Thistle; everyone has stage names and Leroy allegedly wrote the lyrics. Albert was replaced as singer in the band by actress Jennifer Hall, the chubby lead from Soderbergh and Clooney’s Unscripted series on HBO. We'll leave it to you to figure out what that's all about, and what that connection may suggest who else was in on the fraud.)
The Times is a few months behind New York Magazine, which broke the phony author story in November. So why'd they wait? The Times didn’t only review, laud and feature JT. Last fall, they sent “him” to review Disneyland Paris. So now, cornered into admitting they have fake reporters doing fake stories, they force the feature writer who was snookered by JT gang, to write the mea culpa in the form of an investigation...
Sez the Times: “It is unclear what effect the unmasking of Ms. Knoop will have on JT Leroy's readers, who are now faced with the question of whether they have been responding to the books published under that name, or to the story behind them.”
Thing is, the Times and the rest of the literary establishment are the ones who respond to the stories behind books. They review the author as much as they do the work. And they wanted to believe in JT Leroy, because he's the picture perfect author-celebrity for the New York Times and hip literati crowd.
We were thinking about that recently, reading A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, another guy who's gotten a lot of attention and praise because of his brave back story and claims to realism.
The story of a privileged drug abuser’s recovery was a rough ride, but while its supposed reality gave the book its heft (and selection by Oprah’s Book Club), much of it was obviously “too good’ to be true.
By the time Frey got to his sequel, My Friend Leonard, (in a pink cover no less, probably to attract the gals of Oprah’s Book Club), the mix of truth and license went beyond confusion to distraction as we tried to reconcile the author’s supposed degradation with his quick transition from crackhead to convict to doorman to mob courier in Chicago, to screenwriter, director and dog lover in Laurel Canyon.
Then again, in his books, Frey had turned a life of self-pity, self-absorption, self-destruction and self-abuse into a form of heroic self-determination, which was perfect for the Oprah recovery crowd, and explains some of the exaggerations.
Too often, it’s the singer, not the song. And because of that, lots of books don’t even get reviewed in places like the Times.