Ten Best: Fake memoirs

by Brian Clarey

Love and Consequences, by Margaret B. Jones

News surfaced last week that the personal memoir of Margaret Jones, a tale of her upbringing in South Central Los Angeles as a drug runner and gangbanger, was completely cooked. Jones, AKA Margaret Seltzer, actually grew up in Sherman Oaks, by the mall, and in a tearful interview with The New York Times said of her story, “I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to.” Her publisher, a subsidiary of Penguin Books, is recalling the edition and canceling her tour.

Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, by Misha Defonseca

The same Times article referenced another memoir revealed to be fake in February, this Holocaust recollection by a woman who claimed to have lived with a pack of wolves while escaping the Nazis. Before discovering the hoax, the book was translated into 18 languages and made into a French feature film.

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey

The big boy on the block is, of course, James Frey, who betrayed Oprah Winfrey on national television and got a subsequent dressing down by Gayle’s best friend. But his tale of addiction and dereliction raises a good question: Does the fact that it’s not real diminish the work? Fake or not, the book got rave reviews and Times bestseller status and, reportedly, made Oprah cry. And another: Why didn’t he just call it a novel in the first place?

Le Philosophe anglais, ou les memoires de M. Cleveland; Le Doyene de Killerine, by Antione-Francois Abbe Prevost

Making up your life story is hardly a new thing – Abbe Prevost was doing it back in the 18th century. Philosophe was about the travels of the illegitimate son of Oliver Cromwell. Doyene told the story of James II and his fight for the throne of England at the behest of a mob of angry Irish Catholics. These books were never presented as actual truth, and eventually paved the way for the modern novel.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson

I realize it’s not good to speak ill of the dead, but there’s no way that Thompson’s account of his 1971 trip to Sin City with his lawyer, “Dr. Gonzo,” was an accurate description of the journey. Sure, they went to Vegas, and maybe they did bring a salt shaker full of coke, and maybe they did freak on ether on the floor of Circus Circus, but the rest of it is pure crap.

Forbidden Love, by Norma Khouri

Norma Khouri’s account of her Muslim “friend” who was murdered by her own family after falling in love with a Christian deployed a factual mistake on the first page. Her story came under question during the filming of a documentary about her life in Jordan, when she was unable to answer questions on camera and couldn’t direct the crew to key locales. The film was eventually released under the title Forbidden Lie$.

Sarah, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, et al, by JT LeRoy

JT LeRoy was born in West Virginia and lived as a drug-addicted boy-prostitute on the streets of Los Angeles while he wrote his first novel, Sarah. But really, LeRoy was the pen name of Laura Albert, a New York writer. His public persona was played by Savannah Koop, the sister of Albert’s partner. But before the hoax came to light, LeRoy sold four books and his byline appeared in McSweeney’s, Vogue, Spin, Interview, The Times of London and The New York Times.

Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs

Burroughs’ 2002 memoir, made into a film in 2006, tells the story of his adolescence, when he was sent to live with his mother’s psychiatrist at age 12. The real-life shrink sued for defamation, and was awarded a settlement before the movie came out. Burroughs, for his part, called his work “entirely accurate,” but did agree to change the tome from a “memoir” to a “book.”

“The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams”, by Nasdijj

In June 1999, Esquire magazine published a piece by a Navajo named Nasdijj about fetal alcohol syndrome and his son, Tommy Nothing Fancy. Editors said of the piece, “[T]he writing was spartan, quietly furious, beautiful.” It was also a load of crap. Nasdijj, who became a finalist for a National Magazine Award for the story, went on to publish three memoirs before being exposed as Timothy Patrick Barrus, of Lansing, Mich., whose previous milieu was gay porn and leather bondage tales. Esquire took it on the chin, publishing a follow-up, “Nasdijj,” in April 2006.

I Married Wyatt Earp, by Josephine Earp

Josephine Earp, a former dancer, actress and prostitute, was a fine-looking woman (if you like that kind of thing). And she was married, in a manner of speaking, to the famous lawman in the late 1800s. Pretty much everything else she wrote about in her memoir was fabricated. But that didn’t stop the USA Network from making a TV movie about it in 1983 starring Marie Osmond and Bruce Boxleitner. Really.