When James Frey's "memoir" a Million LIttle Pieces was exposed as a fake a few years ago, I shook my head ruefully. I, though I hate to admit it, had been tricked by Mr. Frey and his tall tales. I had read the book, and though somewhat incredulous as to some of the more incredible details of his tale, had believed his story.
I am, perhaps, naive when it comes to the written word. I am enthralled and pulled in by tales of personal redemption and the conquest of emotional demons, and I tend to believe that lies are hard to keep and that the truth will generally rise to the top, much as cream used to do before homogenization became an industry standard of dairy production.
My ignorance, it must be said, is somewhat willed. I grew up reading romantasized biographies of famous Americans, reveling in the tales of Davy Crockett, Ben Franklin, and others. At some point, I realized that these stories were not mere retellings of a life, but rather somehow tied to nation-building, to an attempt to instill patriotic feelings in young people.
And still, I am amazed by these liars--amazed by their gall, their balls, and their disrespect for truth. I no longer buy into the Postmodern view of things (though I did at one time, while studying at Cambridge) and reject the idea that truth is an impossible thing to pin down. Truth, or at least "truthiness" (as Steven Colbert says) exists, at least in some approximate form.
I am therefore, dismayed to read the New York Times article about Margaret Seltzer, whose memoir of gang life in Los Angeles was pure, unadulterated bullshit.
I first heard of Margaret Seltzer (though I then knew her as Margaret B. Jones) in the New York Times last week. I read an article about her recent memoir, and of her philanthropic efforts to help gang members. She, the article informed me, was half-Native American, and had been raised in a foster home in Los Angeles. She had joined the Bloods and run drugs for them. Her brothers had been killed young, shot by other gang members. Somehow, she had escaped to Oregon, where she spent her time writing and cooking up delicious food with "Big Mama's" recipes.
All of this is a lie. Margaret Seltzer is a privileged white girl whose sister exposed her lie (shame on her too for betraying her relative!) after seeing her picture in the New York Times article.
And so, not only do I feel betrayed, but I also wonder at the magnitude of her denial. How could she not know that she would be exposed? I try to think of myself, of trying to publish a book that tells all about my life as a drug-addicted, alcoholic circus performer. Would not someone, at some point, that I have met over the years, see a picture of me and say, "Wait a minute! He most certainly is not what he says he is! I went to high school with that punk ass!"
How can these people really believe that they'll get away with this?
Even worse, perhaps, is the recent exposure of fake Holocaust tales, such as the case of "Misha", in which a woman talks of fleeing the Holocaust, walking across Europe, and even consorting with wolves in the forest. It took eleven years, but she has been exposed as well.
I guess this all has something to do with the scale of the lie. If you scream something loudly enough, write it down, and let the whole world see it, people tend to believe. Most people, like me, can't imagine that someone could be so dumb as to believe that they'll actually get away with something like this. And so, paradoxically, they do. For a time.
Read below some articles associated with these stories.
So Does James Frey
Girl Not Raised By Wolves!