Margaret Seltzer may have made up more than her memoir, Love and Consequences, about growing up in foster care and running drugs for the Bloods gang in South-Central Los Angeles. She also appears to have invented a foundation she said was helping teens stay out of gangs. (The New York Times, free registration) The confession by Seltzer—who was really raised by her biological parents in a safe suburb and attended an Episcopal day school—was the latest in a string of literary frauds. Days earlier, a Belgian woman, Misha Defonseca, admitted that her tale of surviving the Holocaust as an orphan wandering the woods, protected by wolves, was a fake. (Baltimore Sun)
What the commentators said
Why does this keep happening? said USA Today in an editorial. "It's no big mystery," really. The memoir genre "is booming," and "it thrives on first-person accounts of abuse, addiction and other adversity. Fiction may not be stranger than truth, but it can be more interesting."
Seltzer said she chose this path because presenting her story of gang life as "autobiography was the only way anyone would 'listen to it,'" said Steve Almond in The Boston Globe (free registration). "The sad truth is she's probably right." James Frey, who admitted two years ago that he made up key parts of his memoir A Million Little Pieces, proved that publishers are apt to spurn a novel, but think they've "struck gold" if they read the same material presented as nonfiction. "In a nation where the emotional manipulations of tabloid news and reality TV preoccupy us more than the carnage in Iraq or global climate change, is it any wonder those authors 'hoping to be heard' have turned away from the quieter, more terrifying province of truth?"
So, Seltzer got too "creative" and "has been judged and dispatched to literary Siberia," said Patt Morrison in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). But what about the programs to deal with the gangs? If L.A. made anti-gang programs a top priority, maybe it would have been easier for everyone to spot the work of a fabulist. Seltzer "almost got away with her fake memoir because any outrage you can make up, the gangs can make real."