JT Leroy
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JT Leroy

JT Leroy

Albert was a troubled woman who had suffered abuse and found escapist release in phoning crisis helplines in assumed voices and fictional personae. She was also a talented writer and voracious reader, and through in-character fan phonecalls to authors, got an agent for her agonised faux-naïf southern gothic material, written by this mythical figure she’d dreamed up. The extraordinary twist came when Albert persuaded her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to pose as the mysterious, reclusive author in wig and dark glasses for readings. Her cult following included celebrities such as Gus van Sant, Bono and Asia Argento, none too pleased to be hoodwinked, and Albert finally got a fraud conviction for signing a movie deal as “JT LeRoy”.

It’s a strange story. Unlike James Frey’s fake memoir A Million Little Pieces from 2003, Albert’s “LeRoy” work was at least billed as fiction – though with the promise of being based on truth. The film is curious, featuring apparently genuine tape-recordings of phone conversations that “LeRoy” had with her acolytes and friends. She doesn’t say why she made secret tape-recordings, and isn’t asked. Are these recordings real? Or a reconstruction – yet another fictional construct? The key question is: how did Savannah feel about living a lie? Knoop is only interviewed very briefly. The rest of the time, it’s Laura Albert monologuing. She’s a little tiresome and narcissistic. I would have preferred some stronger questioning of her, and a closer look at the question of whether any independent literary merit survives.

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