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J.T. LeRoy: The Next Lit-Crit It Boy?
June 4, 2002 12:50 PM   Subscribe

J.T. LeRoy: The Next Lit-Crit It Boy? A report from the trendy and bespectacled world of hipster-lit book-readings and its newest star, the mercurial J.T. LeRoy. From the article: "LeRoy is the mirror image of the New York hipster’s aspiration: the lost soul done good, when so many in the audience, in pricey vintage t-shirts, seemed to want nothing more than to shed the trappings of middle-class life. More than a few in the audience spoke of him with a sort of rapt awe usually accorded NBA stars and minor deities." For more info on LeRoy, check out the author's official website.
posted by cell divide (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I loved 'Sarah', but 'The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things' is really, really dark in places and I've struggled to get through a lot of the stories. It's all written with an unnervingly strong first person feel, and you really get under the skin of the characters. Not light reading though. Ironically, given the above quote, if Leroy were a band, he'd have to be VU.
posted by boneybaloney at 1:02 PM on June 4, 2002


it all seems ironic enough.
posted by moz at 1:34 PM on June 4, 2002


I couldn't get into his books.
posted by internook at 1:43 PM on June 4, 2002


Sorry to derail the thread, but what exactly is a "pricey vintage t-shirt"? I'm having visions of cleaning my closet and making a killing on consignment sales...
posted by groundhog at 2:06 PM on June 4, 2002


what is a pricey vintage shirt?

what, you've never paid forty bucks to some smirking bald guy for a circa 1970s coors speedboat racing shirt?

i sure hope not, because this guy's got it for ten.
posted by fishfucker at 2:24 PM on June 4, 2002


I believe in the existence of this guy about as much as I believe in the Tooth Fairy. Although I always find it adorable when the wool is pulled over the eyes of the famous and self-adoring.

"Most of his famous writer pals have never met him." Oy with the poodles, already.
posted by gsh at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2002


side note: i find it hilarious that 65% of the auctions returned for "vintage t-shirt" also include the words "EMO INDIE" in the title. guess those guys cornered the market.

best emo indie auction? *has* to be the babylon five patch set.

yep. that's 'core, kids.

(ok, i'll stop derailing).




posted by fishfucker at 2:28 PM on June 4, 2002


I read Sarah recently, was somewhat underwhelmed, (did anyone else notice a typo on page 118, line 23? The word "here" is used instead of "hear", although that's editor's fault). He's an interesting counterpoint to those who say authors are no longer the celebrities of years ago (think Vidal, Fitzgerald).

I found the tone of Sarah somewhat uneven, like a gritty realistic version depiction of prostitution (like Evelyn Lau) would give way to these surrealistic fantasy sections and back again.
posted by bobo123 at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2002


His Diaryland site.
posted by timothompson at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2002


Sounds kinda like a repeat of Jim Carroll which isn't so bad, Carroll was a helluva writer, but I think the "low-life" lit canon must be getting pretty full at the moment.

LeRoy is the mirror image of the New York hipster?s aspiration: the lost soul done good, when so many in the audience, in pricey vintage t-shirts, seemed to want nothing more than to shed the trappings of middle-class life

And if their smart they'll embrace those trappings one day. To a large degree, "hip" culture has disparaged the middle classes as artless, but quite frankly I think that's a bit silly. One of the main reasons that I love Tom Perrotta's work so much is that instead of writing of the white middle class as a flat stereotype or as a synonym for whatever the audience dosen't like, Perrotta write of them as just another group in American society, the one he happens to come from and he reveals it's unimagined depths.

If some of those college kids in the audience read Perrotta, they'd probably experience the shock of recognition and learn to embrace that identity.
posted by jonmc at 3:48 PM on June 4, 2002


jonmc, that knife cuts both ways. Instead of projecting whatever hipsterism is easy to make fun of at the moment perhaps you should be taking your own advice about generalizations.
posted by skallas at 4:45 PM on June 4, 2002


If we have to have it both ways can we make fun of middle-class suburbanites and hipsters? Trust me, I'm no credit to my own demographic.
posted by Wood at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2002


True to a point skallas, but one universal in almost every bohemian movent has been to deride suburbia/the bourgousie as a cultural void. Perrotta(among a few others) sees somthing else there. I find his willingness to embrace his unfashionable bacground admirable and artistically interesting and yeah, I also like the idea that someone finds the world I come from interesting enough to write a book about, thats all. An audience at NYU, from the articles description may conatin more than a few people froma similar background. I'm not attacking them, just making an observation.
posted by jonmc at 5:21 PM on June 4, 2002


jonmc, conversely bohemians are often seen as pretentious, self important, etc. I think you're just proposing a reactionary position, when in reality (as Wood kind of points out) any 'scene' 'lifestyle' or whatever has its ups and downs and the best possible advice is to choose the lifestyle that suits you. Suburbanites and urbanites changes places in the millions every year. Maybe Jane wants to move to the city to meet more musicians and to be closer to smaller venues and Joe wants to enter the suburbs to buy his own house.

Whatever serves you best, I say. I don't like the Us vs. Them mentality and when it comes down to it that kind of thinking will always be a reaction to a lifestyle you're just not part of. I can't stand the cheap shots like the fashion snipes (be it a 50 dollar Hilfiger sweatshirt or a 10 dollar used beer shirt) and in the end they're more generalizations and caricatures than anything else.

There's a weird human need to justify everything in one's life from religion (or lack of) to taste in music when contemplating those different from you.
posted by skallas at 5:38 PM on June 4, 2002


All good points, man. I've spent plenty of time in both the boho and suburbanite slob camp and for the most part enjoy both. I'm just speaking for myself here, you realize. A lot of popular movements involve creating a persona, be it Bob Dylan pretending to be a hobo roustabout or a goth kid pretending to be a vampire. This can be very interesting and in the case of someone like Dylan can create great art.
But me, I don't like to work that hard. I'm a window-shade salesman's kid from the 'burbs. I like beer, KISS, cartoons 7-11 and muscle cars. It's the world I'm from and I'm most at ease there. So naturally, I enjoy art by people(Perrotta, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater etc) that views it honestly and compassionately.

'sall I'm saying.
posted by jonmc at 5:49 PM on June 4, 2002


skallas -- I'd add that in any forum you'll see that justification, and it will seem so universal -- but that's because only people who have such a need speak up about these kinds of things. I see a repeating pattern of people attacking overzealously and then people defending and it just going round and round, but I don't see a lot of people going out of their way to force their scene on the masses. Except when I decided that people were not allowed to dislike NPR, that is. (sorry)
posted by n9 at 5:53 PM on June 4, 2002


oh dear, skallas and n9, I'm not getting into a pissing contest with you two, cos I know full well I'll lose.
All I really wanted to do was posit Perotta as a counterpoint to LeRoy. Literature of the prosaic as opposed to the literature of decadence, which while not without value, is not exactly revolutionary anymore.
That and I just like him and it seemed vaguely relevant to the discussion. And FWIW, I'm sure my feelings towards bohemians reveal more about me than it does about them, but I'm cool with whatever that reveals too.
posted by jonmc at 6:07 PM on June 4, 2002


jonmc, you know me I'm wit' you. My little derailments had more to do with the cheap shots in the article than your comments. I expect the arm-chair athropology and fashion cracks from Joan Rivers, but not from someone trying to build credibilty in a literary article. I think this is a piss-poor article that has less to do with Leroy (no im not a fan) and more to do with scenes and buzz. Hell there's only one paragraph describing his work from the writer's point of view and its the eighth paragraph surrounded by paragraphs about who's wearing what.

Maybe my derailments weren't so far off to begin with.
posted by skallas at 6:14 PM on June 4, 2002


jonmc, you know me I'm wit' you.

Really? I always assumed you considered me a moron. Color me pleasantly surprised.
posted by jonmc at 6:30 PM on June 4, 2002


I'm with you too, jmc. I wasn't even thinking about what you had said in this thread -- jsut replying to skallas. And for the record I've never thought you were anything like a moron. Just almost as stubborn as me. heh.
posted by n9 at 6:38 PM on June 4, 2002


Oh.
Well, you guys are okay, too.

Now that that's settled let's break out the brandy and cigars..
posted by jonmc at 6:42 PM on June 4, 2002


can you feel the love?
posted by n9 at 6:57 PM on June 4, 2002


haven't read any jt leroy (a friend of mine keeps threatening to foist sarah on me) but positing any writer as the anithesis of tom perrotta makes me want to read them all the more. imo perrotta is a boring hack whose atrocious first novel was made into an amusing little indie film that had all the life and satire that his "story" lacked.

oh hell. give me jeanette winterson any day of the week. at least she can write, and how.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:06 PM on June 4, 2002


pxe2000, Election was NOT Perotta's first novel. The Wishbone's was, and Election is probably the least representative of his work. Joe College The Wishbones, or Bad Haircut are far better places to start.

The Wishbones in particular is one of the best explorations of a certain subspecies of american male I've ever read.

He frickin' rules. nuff said.
posted by jonmc at 8:18 PM on June 4, 2002


Hey kids. My friend captain obvious and I were at that reading. We go to readings at the Union Sq B&N all the time -- tonight we went and met Alton Brown. Supercool.

It was, as described, the crowd called 'hip' -- probably the same kids we saw drinking heavily at Dave Eggers/McSweeney's events in Brooklyn a couple years ago. I don't really care about Clay Risen's apparent disdain for that crowd. The event was what it was, you go and see. I don't really get trying to tear people down for going to a book reading. Whatever.
posted by palegirl at 9:04 PM on June 4, 2002


Joe College was great. Election the book was fine, but, needed that little something extra it got in becoming the brilliant movie Election.
posted by MattD at 10:41 AM on June 5, 2002


I believe in the existence of this guy about as much as I believe in the Tooth Fairy.

Me too. As much as I really, *really* would like to believe that he is for real, I suspect a Kaycee Nicole/Anthony Godby Johnson-type scenario. In fact, reading the article about Johnson in the New Yorker was what made me question LeRoy's existence/authenticity. Then after I heard Terry Gross' interview with LeRoy (RA link), I stopped believing altogether--the highpitched, monotone voice, the rehearsed responses. The person who Gross interviewed, and who appears in (scant) photos as JT LeRoy is not the person who wrote the stories (I don't even think the photos are consistently the same person), and whoever wrote the stories concocted them from a perverse imagination, not from experience.

That said, I have been to a JT LeRoy "reading" and found it worthwhile, if only to see Danny Pintauro in leather pants.
posted by cowboy_sally at 10:58 AM on June 5, 2002


That said, I have been to a JT LeRoy "reading" and found it worthwhile, if only to see Danny Pintauro in leather pants.

Sally, you evil, evil woman. I may never recover from that mental image.

*searches frantically for nightlight*
posted by jonmc at 11:45 AM on June 5, 2002


Me too. As much as I really, *really* would like to believe that he is for real, I suspect a Kaycee Nicole/Anthony Godby Johnson-type scenario.

BUt if he is actually talented, why would he need to create this kind of hoax? Would the novel have been less well received if it had been written by a forty year old woman, do you think? I mean, the Tony character had nothing to offer but a sad sad situation; people were impressed because he'd lived through it not because he was a good writer. (I still haven't actually read Sarah though, so I shouldn't make assumptions.)

That said, the interview you linked didn't seem very believable & his explanations for never being seen in public are weak. I just don't understand what the motivation would be.
posted by mdn at 12:55 PM on June 5, 2002


Would the novel have been less well received if it had been written by a forty year old woman, do you think? I mean, the Tony character had nothing to offer but a sad sad situation; people were impressed because he'd lived through it not because he was a good writer.

I don't think Sarah (or The Heart is Deceitful...) would have been as well received had it been written by an older writer; I also don't think that an older writer would have gotten such a large celebrity following, a group who has essentially put him where he is today. The writing, while clever and original, isn't exceptional. It reminds me a lot of Harry Crews. The stories are titillating and exhibitionistic--that, and the hint that they're based on LeRoy's life, is what sells the books. I have no idea who would be behind this ruse, because there aren't any obvious alter egos in the picture (unless you count Dennis Cooper, who was suspected of being LeRoy). But there's something so implausible about both the writer and his stories that makes me unable to believe.
posted by cowboy_sally at 2:26 PM on June 5, 2002


Nabokov hated interviews and would only do them if he could provide pre-rehearsed or written responses. He was ashamed of his relative inelegance when it came to the impromptu, spoken word.

That said, Leroy is no Nabokov.
posted by vacapinta at 2:51 PM on June 5, 2002


I read Sarah a while back and thought it was horribly overrated. I don't understand the fuss with Leroy--is it those ironic t-shirts? The dark and creepy subject matter? It just seems like he's trying too hard to be different and weird. What's weirder than a truckstop ho? How's about her androgynous twelve-year old wannabe truckstop ho son? Whoa, man, that's extreme.

I actually checked out The Heart is Deceitful from the local public library, then realized that it was by the same guy who wrote Sarah. It got shifted to the bottom of the "to be read" pile and was subsequently returned to the library, unread.

Maybe I just have an aversion to hipster-lit. Dunno.
posted by nanette at 6:03 PM on June 5, 2002


While friends who have worked with homeless kids tell me that most of that "LeRoy" talks about is realistic, or at least possible, it's his descriptions of religion that set off alarm bells for me. In particular, "The Heart is Deceitful..." contains sections about his supposedly ultra-Christian grandparents which seem to have been written to disgust the non-Christian among us. Since his target audience is precisely people like me, who have more respect for abuse-surviving transexuals than for fanatics, this seems like the perfect marketing ploy: confirm our stereotypes, flatter us, and become a posterboy for our belief that "we" are better than "them".

In interviews, the author has also talked about his grandparents doing things - like asking their kids to make up new bible stories - that few real dispensationalists (the kind of Christian the grandparents are supposed to be) would do...rewriting the Bible would be heresy!
Here's the most blatant case I could find...unfortunately in Swedish, but perhaps useful to most people here for the photo, which doesn't look like the same person as the others to me, even if you buy into the "I dress up for pictures to avoid choosing a gender" idea.
posted by 23lemurs at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2002


While friends who have worked with homeless kids tell me that most of that "LeRoy" talks about is realistic, or at least possible, it's his descriptions of religion that set off alarm bells for me. In particular, "The Heart is Deceitful..." contains sections about his supposedly ultra-Christian grandparents which seem to have been written to disgust the non-Christian among us. Since his target audience is precisely people like me, who have more respect for abuse-surviving transexuals than for fanatics, this seems like the perfect marketing ploy: confirm our stereotypes, flatter us, and become a posterboy for our belief that "we" are better than "them".

In interviews, the author has also talked about his grandparents doing things - like asking their kids to make up new bible stories - that few real dispensationalists (the kind of Christian the grandparents are supposed to be) would do...rewriting the Bible would be heresy!
Here's the most blatant case I could find...unfortunately in Swedish, but perhaps useful to most people here for the photo, which doesn't look like the same person as the others to me, even if you buy into the "I dress up for pictures to avoid choosing a gender" idea.
posted by 23lemurs at 8:08 AM on June 7, 2002


Sorry for the double post... : (
posted by 23lemurs at 9:09 AM on June 7, 2002


The stories are titillating and exhibitionistic--that, and the hint that they're based on LeRoy's life, is what sells the books.

You're probably right. Soon after I posted above, I was talking with some writer friends who'd had an agent visit their class recently. They were told that a good "backstory" and an appealing author photo were very important to their success... so I guess a motivation does exist. The book would have still been published, assuming it's reasonably good, but would probably not have done as well. It still seems like quite a bit of trouble to go to, and it seems hard to believe such a well known literary figure could be faked for so long, but his story does seem pretty over the top and the disguises & shyness excuses are just lame. It'll be interesting to see how this turns out.
posted by mdn at 4:27 PM on June 7, 2002


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