on 22 August 2001
Ha! Since I first wrote an amazon review of this, 'JT Leroy' has been 'outed' as a made-up front for a husband and wife writing team who pulled off a scam that got bigger than they ever expected. IT DOESN'T MATTER. Real person or not, autobiographical fiction or entirely made-up, 'his' writing, in this collection and the possibly even better novel "Sarah", is far too raw not to be, at least on some level, truthful. Even if 'his' subject matters - abuse, gender confusion, child whoredom, desperacy for love - weren't so inflammatory, the language and vividness of spirit would still make these books blistering reads.
on 15 June 2006
I haven't actually bought this book but I borrowed it from my library, doing the usual picking a book by its cover.
At first I thought this book was going nowhere but I actually couldn't put the book down. It was immensly moving, had me in tears at some points. The characters may seem a little melodramatic however they are relatable to. Although at some points I found the story a little jumpy and confusing, carry on reading and it makes it more sense. I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The story is very shocking though, and the innocent minded may not like it.
I was unaware the book was a cult classic but after reading it I can see why.
on 28 August 2001
When I read 'Sarah' last autumn, I was quite taken by the simplicity with which it was told. It's straightforward story, J.T.'s reality retold in simple prose, it's grittiness was mainly sad, but over all, when I finished reading, I thought, "Ah, and he became a writer. Excellent." Not much else I'm afraid, whilst I enjoyed the style, and the pace, the story was well told, but left little to think about. Sad life, yes. Book of consecuence, barely. However, I've just finished "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things", and can only say one thing. Breathtaking. Again, J.T. sticks with his simple prose, but this time explores other aspects of his persona, things that, I daresay affect him still as a result of his past. Whilst 'Sarah' made me think, 'The Heart...' made me gasp at times, it's content is sometimes shocking, definitely disturbing, but extremely witty and honest. Beautiful. Read it.
I read this book without being aware of the story behind its `author', now identified as Laura Albert, b. 1965. It covers somewhat similar ground to that of the supposed `semi-autobiographical novel', Sarah. Reading about the backlash that followed Ms Albert's `outing' in 2005 and the subsequent adaptation of this book by the Italian film director, Asia Argento [who also took the role of Sarah], it is difficult not to conclude that much of the former was a result of the media's embarrassment at being duped.
Through a series of largely chronological interlocking chapters, the reader is led through the life of Jeremiah who is first encountered as a four-year old who has been recovered from his loving foster parents by legal action taken by his disturbed biological mother, the teenage Sarah [`Nobody takes what's mine'], and her father, an Evangelical fanatic. His concern is not for Sarah, whom he hates, or his grandson, whom he believes is troubled by the devil, but simply to remove him from the protection of the state.
Sarah, who might define the term `white trash', abuses Jeremiah mentally [she convinces him that the foster parents hate him and that the police will `nail you to a cross' if he misbehaves], physically [burning him and knocking him unconscious] and sexually, as do the many `daddys' that she lives with. His grandfather beats and tortures him to exorcise his devils and make him repent. Only occasionally, and unsuccessfully, does the boy fall into the hands of external characters, doctors, nurses, policemen and social workers but in each case he is soon back with his family - no one caring how his injuries were caused.
As the book progresses, Sarah becomes more depraved, seeking solace in drink, drugs and more violent abuse, until she is finally sectioned. In parallel, we see Jeremiah following a similar downward path. Since a son tagging alongside would limit her chances of finding the next man/job/client/fix, Sarah introduces Jeremiah as her brother or sister [`Men like girls, not boys'], which leads him to dress up and practice her actions and behavior. Desperate for her affection, Jeremiah seeks his mother's approval by prostituting himself, to prove to both of them that he possesses some worth.
In the face of all this repression Jeremiah continues to trust his mother and even his grandfather [who forces him to scrub his skin with bleach and scalding hot water, and clean his genitals with a wire brush until they bleed]. Most horrific of all, Jeremiah actively seeks violent punishment to help remove his sinful thoughts.
Late in the book, Albert describes the origins of Sarah's self-destructive behaviour and her sadistic treatment of her son. This is a shocking book that many readers will struggle to finish or leave unread. There is surely a point at which describing new sadistic horrors merely numbs the reader and accentuate concern that this is an exercise in sensationalism. Belated attempts to introduce some black humour are, to say the least, misguided.
Albert is so focussed on Sarah and Jeremiah that she gives little attention to its West Virginia location/setting with most outdoor locations being trash-filled parking lots. This unremitting concern with the darkest elements of human existence means that there is no light to provide context. Other characters are little more than stereotypical, religious fanatics, bikers and truckers, policemen, psychologists and medical staff.
Whatever the thinking behind Albert's actions it takes nothing away from the horror of her story set in the world's leading economic power. However, as it is now known not to be based on the author's personal experiences this raises a query in the reader's mind as to whether this is fiction, faction or the result of first-hand research and conversations with victims of abuse. The further removed from the latter, the greater the feeling that the author is being exploitative. Reading about the promotion of a `real j. t. leroy' who talks with the media it began to seem that Albert was rather more exploitative than campaigning, interested in basking in the hype rather than addressing society's ills.
This book was published in 2001 and it would now be interesting to know what, if anything, had changed in the USA since its appearance?
on 28 November 2003
This book (and the other by JT LeRoy - The Heart is deceitful above all things) was 'unputdownable'. I couldn't recommend more but be prepared to be shocked. JT gives us an insight into mid-town, poor America. Whilst the book is not a biog, I think the majority is based around his actual experiences. Very interesting, do read!
on 28 June 2006
whether J.T.LeRoy exists or not, you cannot deny this beautiful piece of literature. Its descritption of the protagonistchild jermeiahs life gives you a real insight to his real or fictional childhood.
Jeremiahs story is one unlike other child abuse auto biographies, just by the way that you can see every aspect of jeremiahs feelings, his relationship with others around him, whihc would still be as realsitic without the violence.
I was literlaly in tears by the end page, after reading about his whole life, and what had led up to the adult he becomes