Oh, Jeremiah: Why JT Leroy’s ‘The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things” still remains important in word and life.
This book had an extremely emotional and evocative effect on me. From the moment I opened the cover I couldn’t put it down. I felt all these emotions that I had never understood about my own abusive and estranged relationship with my mother. Every inch of love, hate, pain, confusion, ambivalence I felt. I could identify with both Jeremiah and Sarah. It was the first time since reading the autobiography of Frances Farmer when I was 13 that I had some frame of reference for experiences I have felt myself. Needless to say the book left a lasting impression. I then read Sarah and was even more engulfed by the stories and the fluidity and raw vivid nature in which JT wrote.
I wasn’t angry nor bitter once this ‘truth’ (Laura Albert was JT Leroy) was exposed. I could completely relate to the idea of needing an avatar or an alter to be able to express the stories of truth. I have kept notebooks and notebooks like abysses of all the writing I have done and I have always felt a need to write in 3rd person, to be able to get outside myself in order to tell the story. Especially, looking at my childhood where disassociating and taking on a 3rd person view became my defense mechanism, my safety place.. So the idea that Laura felt the need to be anonymous or create a pseudonym or fake persona in order to be true to her story didn’t make her stories any less true in fact if anything it highlighted the idea that so many people are willing to accept truths when they believe its a certain person, somebody else. No one wants to believe those truths can be their own so we dissociate and make them someone else’s truth. I think those who understand what is true and what is raw and what are the entrails and bare exposed bones of Leroy/Albert’s writing understand the dignity in her position.
All I know is that I felt more truth and more raw beauty and pain from JT’s books than I felt from any so-called true biography. Then came the moment sometime in early 2011 when I decided to write Laura. We immediately began a long dialogue and befriended each other. She is now someone I hold in very high esteem and admiration as a human, as a heart, as a soul. She has continued to inspire me and encourage me in my own life and I now count her as a dear friend.
This book is a raw unadulterated look at pain, guilt, shame, the synchrony of love and hate and the inner demons and saints. This book remains one of the most honest pieces of writing in my mind. It pierced me on a level that I personally won’t forget and Asia Argento’s adaptation to film was the perfect visual to accompany the book. But it was Laura Albert’s dedication to her truths and her characters to become something and someone entirely different in order to make these stories live that makes her work as a writer both truly unforgettable and the psyche of her process forever intriguing.
Laura’s personal pain and empathy of the pain of others is unwavering and the way in which she can show the truth in a way that shows the edges and the raw bones of what relationships and existence throughout moments and memories are. But most of all it begs the question, what is truth? Is Jeremiah’s story any less true now we know it wasn’t written by who we visually thought was JT? No.
Throughout literary history, scores and scores of female writers wrote under male pseudonyms in order to tell their stories and some even let others take the credit for their work before finally owning it themselves and some never gettting the chance.
Some truths are so dark, so painful, so sharp that you need a somewhat veil to shield your identity in order to succumb to the truth of the story and immerse onself in the world you are creating and the characters you are inhabiting. Some may look at JT Leroy’s work in the future as a mere litereary scandal but they would be greatly remiss in depriving themselves of some of the greatest contemporary evocative and jarring writing of the 20th century.
I strongly suggest that if you havent read Jt’s first book ‘Sarah’ you go out and do so. Again, not for the faint at heart but a story that will grip you and tear your insides to shreads.