The writing continues apace. I now have 120 pages of...something. It's a strange sensation: I have never prepared so little to write a book. I took some notes a while back but I don't know where I put them. Everything is coming from the constant cogitation I expend on the project every day. Continuity errors are doubtless piling up, and I dread having to face them later, but I'm having more fun writing than I have in years, which is more than ample compensation.
Anyhow, now that I have gotten over the initial push into "can't give up now" territory, I'll be posting more frequently. Please return to your original regimen of visiting the blog!
Today I want to offer a bit of praise for a friend's book. Paul Maliszewski's Fakers (weird--the dust jacket at that link isn't remotely like the one I have in front of me) is a loosely structured collection of essays about literary frauds, including Stephen Glass, James Frey, and J. T. Leroy. Maliszewski also writes about writers who write about fakes (Peter Carey), the nature of tall tales, and the literary world's meta-appreciation of the specious "spectric school" of poetry. The book opens with one of the writer's own brushes with controversy: Maliszewski, while grudgingly working for a business newspaper in Syracuse in the late nineties, began a psudonomous ironic letter-writing campaign to the paper, and ended up writing parodic editorials under several assumed names, which his editor published in earnest, believing their authors to be real people. The plot unraveled, of course, and Maliszewski ended up being threatened by the FBI. The story is crazy and very funny (and is not even, in my view, the most interesting of Paul's pseudonomous exploits--but you'll have to ask him about that), and sets the tone for what proves to be an intelligent and highly entertaining exploration of frauds and why we fall for them.
One thing that occurs to me reading about these writers--particularly the memoirists "LeRoy" and Frey--is that they have to be admired for their shrewdness. They understood that, by and large, publishers aren't interested in good stories so much as stories that tell people what they want to hear. The world, these writers decided, wants street-smart victim narratives, and so that's what they wrote. The writers are to blame for their frauds, of course. But insofar as they are literary monsters, they're the monsters the publishing industry created, the result of their endless pandering to conventional tastes. Which of course brings me back to one of my hobby horses: the sad misapprehension that publishers can maintain a 12% profit margin while remaining culturally relevant. But you don't need to hear that again.
There's one quite surprising story here, as well, about, of all people, Michael Chabon. Chabon evidently delivers, from time to time, a lecture entitled "Golems I Have Known," in which he relates the (ultimately redemptive) story of his discovery that a favorite writer of his from childhood, a man named Colby, was actually his neighbor--and a discredited Holocaust memoirist, a faker. The lecture itself, it turns out, is almost entirely a fabrication. Chabon doesn't make any particular claims about the lecture's factuality, but he doesn't call it fiction, either, and many of his listeners assume the story to be true. Maliszewski interviewed Chabon for Fakers, and addresses, very effectively I think, the moral pitfalls of the situation. Is Chabon merely doing what he's good at--that is, inventing a story--for a greater good: to convey the power of the imagination, and remind listeners of people's capacity for forgiveness? Or is he snatching for himself a bit of the moral authority that a connection to the Holocaust can confer on a writer? In the end, I don't know, and neither does Maliszewski. Chabon doesn't seem to, either.
Fakes only really work in the cultural moment for which they are created. "We're not likely," Maliszewski writes, "to get fooled by the fakes of our fathers." If you have a good eye, and if you're not invested in the mores of the moment, you can spot them as they happen. Rhian, for instance, saw through Stephen Glass in an instant: she identified his psychic-hotline piece in Harper's as bullshit the moment she read it.
Not me, though. I bought it. What can I say? I wanted to believe.