by Alan Yudman
Is she crazy? Bi-polar? A devious schemer? Only Laura Albert knows her real reason for creating the pseudonym/character/author JT LeRoy.
LeRoy wrote two unbelievable books, if you are to believe literary critics of the early 2000’s. “Sarah” and “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” were masterpieces. A new voice for a new millennium. But it was all a hoax. Or was it? That is a question posited by Jeff Feuerzeig in his documentary, AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY.
If you are not familiar with the story, the film explains it all. Laura Albert was a fat kid from Brooklyn. She was bullied, scorned, abused by her mother and abandoned by her father. She began writing in a male voice. That voice turned out to be the son of a truck stop hooker.
Albert wrote short stories and what she describes as an accidental novel which was “Sarah”. That book was a revelation to many and it made JT LeRoy something of the “it” guy in pop culture. Problem was, there was no JT LeRoy. It was someone who Albert gave voice to. So JT became a “recluse” and celebrities from Deborah Harry to Matthew Modine filled in at book readings. JT became friends with Courtney Love, Gus Van Sant, Billy Corgan, Bono, Eddie Vedder. How do we know this? Tape recordings. Hundreds if not thousands of hours of recorded phone conversations with the famous. Albert had an addiction to calling suicide help lines. And she’d call them as some early form of JT. There are hundreds of calls to a therapist who believes he is treating a young man. Then that personality took over and wrote the short stories and the books.
But Albert went farther. She enlisted her sister-in-law to play JT in public. She and her partner Geoff Knoop put a wig and sunglasses on his sister Savannah an poof, JT came to life. Everyone believed it. Albert became JT’s assistant, the brash Brit named Speedie. Geoff Knoop was another character. Yes, at this point you need some kind of family tree or flow chart to follow it all. But Feuerzeig does a very good job keeping it simple and walking us through it all.
Albert maintains the charade or play or performance art until she is outed by a New York magazine article and another in the New York Times.
So what are we to make of all this? Feuerzeig allows us to reach our own conclusions. That is not all good though. I am no psychologist and I cannot diagnose what is going on in Albert’s head. It doesn’t seem to be bi-polar or multiple personality disorder. But we get no answers and I would have at least like some education on what was going on from a mental health standpoint. The other half is what was Albert’s goal or motivation.
Experts called this the greatest literary hoax of our time. I have my own thoughts. But I’m not going to share them with you here. Go see the film and draw your own conclusions.
I would suggest listening to WTF with Marc Maron Episode 738. It’s not yet behind the pay wall and might give you more insight into where Albert is coming from. Maron does a great job diving into her history and that plus the movie are two halves of a remarkable story.