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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Go Ask Beatrice Sparks.

One of the new books I mentioned last week was Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds by Melissa Katsoulis. After browsing this book, I can only hope that the next time I watch Jeopardy!, there is a category on this subject.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to hear that officially, Go Ask Alice is a hoax. I heard it might be, but never pursued it because I wanted to believe that a teenager who quickly goes from innocent girl to crack-addict had the time and wherewithal to keep a diary during her journey. (I did think it was odd that she was homeless and hitchhiking around California, but always had her trusty diary with her.) The work is not, in fact, the work of a devoted, drug-addled diarist hopped up speed, but instead the work of Beatrice Sparks, a Mormon housewife who wrote it as a cautionary tale.

Sparks’s undoing was claiming that she threw away the original manuscript after she transcribed it, as well as going to write other fake-o diaries, including one that was Satan-themed. Oh, Beatrice! You should’ve quit while you were ahead.

Another story I found intriguing is that of rivaling biographers of the poet John Betjeman. Upon completing his manuscript, Biographer A heard that Biographer B intended to write a biography of the poet. Biographer A knew that Biographer B would be relying heavily upon previous biographies and would be eager for new information. So naturally, Biographer A fabricated a letter to Betjeman from a secret lover, which Biographer B believed and published in his work.

This is my favorite part: Biographer A bought a copy of the book and then, discovering the letter reprinted in its entirety, he rejoiced: “Passers-by might have mistaken the jig-dancing, air-punching gentleman in the street for a lunatic, or a drunk waiting anxiously for the nearby Wykeham Arms to open. But for [Biographer A] this was the greatest trick he had ever played in his life” (323). Bonus points for making the first letters of each sentence in the fake letter spell out something unsavory about Biographer B.

Other well-known hoaxes are included, of course, like James Frey or J.T. LeRoy, but I particular liked the stories I’d never heard before. This book is a great little read if you like big fat liars. In other words, I highly recommend it!

Katsoulis, Melissa. Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds. Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. I work in the town where the young man upon whom Jay's Journal lived and died. His mother trusted Sparks to do justice to her son's story, having believed Go Ask Alice was actually "a real diary." Alden Barrett was extremely intelligent and so didn't fit in with the high school crowd, a poet and champion debater who suffered deep depression at a time when teen depression was never even considered a possibility. Marcella Barrett naively handed over Alden's diary and, since occasional drug use and depression weren't juicy enough, Sparks added 200 pages to the 21 or so she "edited" from Alden's diary and turned Alden and his small circle of friends into Satan worshipers who mutilated animals and engaged in violent, drug-addled sex. When the book was published, everyone from Alden's hometown knew who its subject was. The family ended up having to move away because of the way their small community treated them--vandalizing their house, openly snubbing them in public, vandalizing Alden's gravestone (the epitaph is one of his own poems), and, because Sparks is one shrewd businesswoman, Marcella Barrett signed away all rights to the diary. Sparks also publishes disclaimers in her books freeing her from libel suits. Go Ask Alice's disclaimer openly declares it to be a work of fiction. As far as I know, nobody has ever done a computer analysis of her books, but the voice and style in Jay's Journal and Go Ask Alice are similar enough (and contrived enough--teens, even intelligent ones, don't write like that) to expose Sparks as the fraud she is. I haven't read anything else by her, except a few pages from It Happened to Nancy, about a girl who gets AIDS from being date-raped, to see the voice and style vary wildly enough to make it obvious which parts Sparks "edited" (read: "pulled out of her ass"). The disclaimer in the front of this book states that the book was "edited" from a "real diary," so by 1995, Sparks had figured out how to cover that ass.


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