Wow. More phony memoirs. Two years ago James Frey tearfully begged forgiveness from Oprah Winfrey, after her book club helped launch his hugely successful memoir of incarceration and addiction--a tale of redemption which turned out to be a fraud. Now comes a trio of fabulists:
Ishmael Beah, who wrote a book about his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone
"Holocaust survivor" Misha Defonseca
Margaret B. Jones, who turns out to be Margaret Seltzer, who did not have the experiences she described in her gang memoir
The third member of this liars' club happens to have pulled the wool over the eyes of my friend and fellow writer Inga Muscio.
In an Entertainment Weekly interview and on her own blog, Inga tells what it's like to be duped by a writer whose work she liked and tried to help.
I don't know about you, but I am absolutely fascinated with compulsive liars. I've known a few, and I have read about others. I am blown away by the audacity of a person who would fake a life story. I've taken a few acting classes over the years--enough to know I have no talent, but also that I lack the basic desire to be someone else, even for a short time. I stand in awe of anyone who can adopt a whole way of being, and commit to it long-term.
My current favorite fabulist is Tania Head, the woman who lied about being a 9/11 survivor. She didn't write a book, but she probably would have eventually, if she had not been outed by a family she knew in Barcelona. By then, Ms. Head had become a respected spokesperson, raising money and awareness, and meeting famous politicians and celebrities who lavished praise on her for her courage. But, as it became apparent when the family in Barcelona came forward, Head had invented her entire story--about being in one of the towers, about the death of her fiance, about the firefighter who had saved her life...
One thing we all hate to admit is this: People are so mysterious, we barely know our own hearts, let alone the hearts and minds of other human beings. Most of the time we are going on pure faith, and we're open to being conned to the extent that we believe in and accept life. The more compassionate and empathetic we are, the closer we get to where a con artist or compulsive liar needs for us to be.