walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

memoir woes

I've been completely fascinated by the _Love and Consequences_ debacle. For those not following along in other areas, here's the short form:

extremely white girl raised by bio-parents with sib in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley
volunteers helping some gang members
starts writing down some of their stories, but using first person, in a class
teacher refers her to Inga Muscio, who is writing a book on racism and interviews her
(so for sure by this point, she's representing herself as (a) having a different last name and (b) a very different history)
Muscio refers her to an editor at Riverhead, a Penguin imprint
at this point, extremely white girl is making the following claims:
half white, half Native American
raised in a foster home in South Central LA
gang banger, now an "inactive" member, whatever that might mean
and introducing a variety of people to her editor as her foster siblings
goal/result: book _Love and Consequences_ released last Friday with massive favorable coverage in O, NYTRB, etc.
bio-sibling sees coverage (duh); contacts press and sez, hey, that's a lot of b.s.
media and blog feeding frenzy ensues, with some pretty crappy coverage

Here are the interesting highlights from my perspective:

(1) Do they not even request Driver's License/Social Security Card -- I-9 type documentation to establish identity? You would think, 3 years in the works, you'd do at least that.
(2) Margaret "Peggy" Jones/Seltzer claimed to have founded a gang-assistance organization called International Brother/Sisterhood. A minimal website exists, primarily to focus attention on the author and the book, with a slim list of other related organizations, the claim to provide one-on-one mentoring and no obvious way to actually get the organization to help someone who wanted help.
(3) Seltzer's grammar is, not to put too fine a point on it, way too good. See also complaints about Cupcake Brown's memoir _A Piece of Cake_ and, in general, any cross section of writing produced by young gang members in prison and participating in prison writing programs. Grammar, not their strong point.

It seems clear to me that what the memoir-junkie wants from a memoir is largely incompatible with truth-in-advertising. They want a story that makes them feel like they were there/they know the memoirist intimately. A non-fraudulent bio/memoir isn't typically going to satisfy that. An authentic memoir will not have clear meaning in its events, will have a lot of extraneous details, will present a person who is at times, if not all the time, fairly unlikeable. A memoir-junkie looking for truly-appalling-early-life stories is going to be double handicapped if non-standard English hangs them up, because really bad early life experiences don't often lead to skilled novelizing, er, memoir writing.

The whole enterprise looks kinda bankrupt to me. I look forward to further scandal.

A slight addendum: Seltzer presumably _has_ some amazing story to tell that _is_ true. Usually, people who turn out to be massive, pathological liars have some kind of batshit crazy background worth telling. At least, in my limited experience. Unfortunately, they've usually completely lost any connection to it, so it would probably have to be told by (a) someone else or (b) after a whole lot of therapy (and therefore, effectively, someone else).
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