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May 10, 2010 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, by J.T. Leroy

The J.T. Leroy debacle was once described by the New York Times as the greatest literary hoax of our generation. After having read the book, I’m thinking maybe they should be glad that Leroy isn’t the drug-addled, child-abused, cross-dressing rape victim of this ‘autobiographical’ set of short stories. The stories (there are ten) begin in the early 80s, with four-year-old narrator Jeremiah being returned to his 18-year-old mother after a short, happy life with foster parents.

His mother, Sarah, is a bleach blonde child delinquent turned waitress turned truck stop whore whose idea of responsible mothering is remembering not to put vodka in her son’s morning glass of milk. It didn’t have to be like this for Sarah. After a pleasant suburban childhood spent getting hellfire ass-whippings from her fundamentalist Christian father (whom Jeremiah gets the pleasure of meeting over the course of the story), the world lay waiting at her feet. Instead she ran away, got pregnant, and perfected the art of choosing abusive boyfriends, which comes in extra handy on the nights where Jeremiah won’t stop crying.

We listen to Jeremiah’s narration in fascinated horror as he grows up in the back seats of trucks, meth dungeons and gutters, being forced to dress, act, and seduce as a girl by the mother he strangely idolises. It has moments of ironic humour—Jeremiah’s unfazed description of being made to play with sex trauma dolls to help him ‘recover’ in a child psychologist’s office is one of them—but they’re only smirk worthy because they show us that, in Jeremiah’s world, the good guys are still the bad guys, and the bad guys are people who make Satan look like Betty White.


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