Sunday, May 28, 2017

"The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" (2001)

Story by JT LeRoy not available online.

JT LeRoy, as we understood him at the time of the publication of this story, was a 20-year-old street hustler, drug addict, and vagrant. Later he turned out to be a 35-year-old woman named Laura Albert, who claimed the LeRoy persona enabled her to write things she couldn't have otherwise. This title story of the cycle of stories published under JT LeRoy's name in 2001 may not even fairly represent her, as the book is considered by some to be a novel (see also William Burroughs's Exterminator! or Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son). Actually, knowing what I know now, this story seems weak to me—mostly intended to shock and not very convincing. The violence feels exaggerated, for one thing, more like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie, arch and ironic and heavy-handed with the gore. I was hoping for more. It's possible I just can't get out of the way of the real-life context. Before the LeRoy persona was exposed, Albert had an enviable amount of support from figures such as Dennis Cooper, Mary Gaitskill, and Courtney Love, who are often markers of taste whatever you think of their own work. As literary hoaxes go, the LeRoy episode may be one of the best, that story itself possibly the best we ever get from Albert, who abandoned the LeRoy persona after she was exposed. Similar to the famous Stanley Milgrom experiment in terms of ethical behavior and results, it offered up profoundly interesting and uncomfortable insights. I can sit here and say I'm not much impressed with the story, which strains in obvious ways for grotesque effect. But how would I have felt if I'd been caught up in the hoopla before Albert was exposed? For what it's worth, I read the Da Capo Best Music Writing anthology she edited in 2005 as LeRoy shortly before the exposure and I thought and still think it's one of the best in the series, along with Gaitskill's the following year. So I'm sorry to say I suspect I might have liked this story more, or said I did, much as I'm inclined now to say I don't. Social pressures are clearly affecting judgment here, which remains the most interesting aspect of this story for me for now. Laura Albert fooled people by appealing directly to their own marginal interests in violence, drugs, and alternative sexuality. That makes it embarrassing more than anything for those fooled. Yet anyone, played correctly, is likely to be a victim. But again, what's most interesting to me for my purposes here are the judgments we make of the story. It's easy to be repulsed by it now, and find it shallow, but where is the line that separates it from the work of some of her victims? That's not an easy question.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by JT LeRoy

No comments:

Post a Comment