When I started The Beautiful Struggle, I refused to read any other memoirs. With the exception of Walter Bernstein's lovely Inside Out, I kept that promise. My reason for such a weird decision? Stories like this:
In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.
The problem is that none of it is true.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.
I flipped through a few memoirs when I was writing my proposal, and while I didn't get the impression that they were completely fabricated, I was amazed at the level of detail with which people could recall events. I'm talking about memories of attire and weather on specific days from, like, age five. And not just once, but all across the book. I felt like I couldn't trust any of it. To my mind, memoir is supposed to be true.
When I wrote mine, I struggled with even the idea of recreating dialogue. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that I couldn't write the book without doing that. I'm still not sure that was the right decision, and my discomfort is reflected in how little dialogue is actually in the book. OK, I'm getting off-track here. My point is that editors are going to have to start fact-checking mo-fos. They don't have to fact-check everything, because as I understand it, that would be prohibitively expensive. But maybe an audit system where they randomly fact-check books, and fact-check ones that raise the B.S. alarm. I think a white chick claiming to have grown up gang-banging in South-Central qualifies. Man, a few phone calls would have revealed the fraud...