A memoir written by a white woman who claimed to be raised by a black foster mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles has turned out to be a work of fiction. In Love and Consequences, which was published last week by Penguin imprint Riverhead Books, Margaret B. Jones writes about growing up half-white and half–Native American in South Central L.A., and about gun-slinging and selling drugs for the Bloods gang. But after seeing a feature article on Jones in The New York Times recently, Jones’ older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, contacted Riverhead Books and revealed that Jones’ real name is Margaret Seltzer, that she is not half Native American, that she grew up in an affluent neighborhood in California’s San Fernando Valley, that she had attended a private school, and that she had never lived with a foster family or sold drugs. The publisher has recalled all copies of the book. (AP)
What the commentators said
How did this happen? said Chris Cechin in Radar Online. “Love and Consequences was the three-year-long project of Sarah McGrath, whose father, Charles McGrath, is currently writer at large for the New York Times (and who was previously the editor of the New York Times Book Review), and whose husband J. Edward Kastenmeir is a book editor himself.” Are you telling me that “the topic” of Seltzer’s book “never came up” among them, or that “galleys were never shared or peeked at”? How did three professionals not suspect something?
“Let’s face it—embellishing memoirs is nothing new,” said Rachel Donadio in The New York Time’s blog Paper Cuts. “Even a Nobel Laureate like Nadine Gordimer has admitted to it.” And every publisher knows that “memoirs sell better than fiction.” On top of that, “memoirs are seen as more authentic than novels, and we earnest Americans—raised to value hard work and plain talk—will always choose faux authenticity over real artifice.”
“In retrospect, it seems almost laughable that anyone believed Seltzer’s stories in the first place,” said Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler in New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog. They have a “whiff of cliché” and seem “suspiciously detailed.” But it’s possible that her heart was in the right place: “Early on, when asked what she would do if the book blew up and film rights were bought, Seltzer told the Times she’d probably open a community center.”