Memoirs: The New Fiction

by alphamonkey on March 7, 2008 · 9 comments

in Uncategorized

Apparently truth isn’t stranger than fiction. Just ask J.T. LeRoy (or not, seeing as that persona was invented wholecloth by Laura Albert and Geoffrey Knoop) and James Frey. You’d think after two high-profile revelations that best selling memoirs were almost wholly fiction, book publishers would be a little gun-shy about releasing memoirs without doing some serious research first, but you’d be flat out wrong.

Last month author Misha Defonseca admitted that her harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust was completely fabricated. While earlier this month Margaret B. Jones (whose memoir about growing up as a foster child in South Central surrounded by drugs and gangs has received critical acclaim) was revealed to be Margaret Seltzer, whose own upbringing (raised in Sherman Oaks by her affluent natural parents), makes Vanilla Ice look downright street-tough by comparison.

And finally, Long Way Home, the best-selling memoir of Ishmael Baeh whose experience as a child soldier in Serra Leone has been called into question as well.

It’s enough to make you skip straight to technical manuals, eh? What’s most telling is that in nearly all of these cases, the books were originally written as fiction and then massaged into memoirs to make them more attractive to publishers.

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  • Liaries Reach a New Low

    Oh, joy. Esquire has written a fictional liary of Heath Ledger, proposing to be an account of his last days.


  • Colonel Dashing

    When it comes to memoirs that do, in fact, turn out to be fictional, it doesn’t bother me. I just chalk it up to creative license. After all, a writer is supposed to entertain us, and whether their personal stories are true or not really shouldn’t change the message of their tale. For instance, the James Frey revelation made Oprah go off on a self-righteous rant about how his book had helped people but, now that it was proven to be fictional, it was irrelevant. To me such reasoning is ridiculous. If a book helps people in their lives, or sheds light on a subject, it shouldn’t matter if it actually happened or not. As far as I am concerned, I leave it up to the reader to use some skepticism when reading a memoir. After all, History has been rewritten time and time again, since we began a record of human civilization. Nothing infuriates me more, but it has always been up to the reader of such revisions to approach each work with the understanding that it is only one person’s interpretation of events. In the end, we all have our own interpretations of what is truth and what is fiction.

  • Busymm

    1984 anyone????

  • Mary

    hey what part of fiction dont you understand? JT LEROY published FICTION. Why dont you try fact checking before you attack a writers right to do what Mark Twain and George Sand and Bronte sisters did. There is no difference. There was the added extra of Jt LeRoy – just doing what Warhol did. The work was labeled FICTION not memoir.
    Got it?

  • .alphamonkey.

    in nearly all these cases” subtle, I know, but disclaimed nonetheless.

    JT LeRoy wasn’t doing what Warhol did, they fooled (and in some cases defrauded) a number of individuals both professionally and personally. That’s just crass, not performance art.

  • evalynn

    what did Laura Albert “defraud”? She was paid for fictional novels that she wrote.

  • Marlene

    The Rosenblat story is so sad. Why is Atlantic Pictures making a film based on a lie? Why didn’t Oprah check the story out before publicizing it, especially after James Frey and given that many bloggers like Deborah Lipstadt said in 2007 that the Rosenblat’s story couldn’t be true.
    Genuine love stories from the Holocaust do exist. My favorite is the one about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt – the beautiful young art student who painted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the children’s barracks at Auschwitz to cheer them up. This painting became the reason Dina and her Mother survived Auschwitz. After the end of the war, Dina applied for an art job in Paris. Unbeknownst to Dina, her interviewer was the lead animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They fell in love and got married. It’s such a romantic love story. Another reason I love Dina’s story is the tremendous courage she had to paint the mural in the first place. Painting the mural for the children caused her to be taken to Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death. She thought she was going to be gassed, but bravely she stood up to Mengele and he made her his portrait painter, saving herself and her mother from the gas chamber.

    Dina’s story is also verified to be true. Some of the paintings she did for Mengele in Auschwitz survived the war and are at the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum. The story of her painting the mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the children’s barrack has been corroborated by many other Auschwitz prisoners, and of course her love and marriage to the animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Disney movie after the war in Paris is also documented.

    Why wasn’t the Rosenblatt’s story checked out before it was published and picked up to have the movie made?? I would like to see true and wonderful stories like Dina’s be publicized, not these hoax tales that destroy credibility and trust.

  • WasslKitty

    Colonel Dashing,

    God, you’re a ‘tard. Let me guess, you’re about 20-22 years old and download all of your music illegally, right?

    Thought so.

    Using you example of James Frey, as well an example, how are we supposed to take any lessons from it if everything in the book is an out and out lie? Frey was never in the Hazelton Clinic in Minnesota, yet he went on for pages and pages about what it was like being in rehab there. Just like he went on for pages and pages about how he spent six months in one of the countries worst prisons, when in fact he spent less then a week in a local jail.

    He is positing the experiences detailed in the book as “real life”, when they are in fact utter lies. There isn’t a single thing in them that relates in any way, shape or form to actual reality.

    Contrary to what you say, history has not been re-written and re-written over and over and over and over and over. It has been re-examined and new information and insights have been uncovered, but that is a far cry from being re-written.

    Whyn’t you go back to doing what you do best, which is obviously sucking dick in the alley for $10 a shot.

  • .alphamonkey.

    WasslKitty? What was wrong with ‘Saint Nightwalker’ or ‘Enslaved By Ducks’, Ben? I mean, really now. Wouldn’t delivering your droppings from on high be simpler if you just picked a name and stuck with it?

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