Review – The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T. LeRoy

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things coverTitle: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Author: J.T. LeRoy
Publisher: Little, Brown
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: 2002 (new edition August 4th, 2016)
Genre: GLBTQ, Short Stories
Length: 280 pages

Review Summary: A very powerful set of linked stories about a boy whose teenage mother pulls him from his foster home and goes on the run with him. Gritty and hard-hitting.

Plot Summary/Description

Jeremiah has spent his life in foster care, until his young mother comes to get him and they go on the run. Life with Sarah is not easy, involving drugs, motels and truckstops, a succession of boyfriends who are often abusive, and constant chaos and confusion. Somehow, Jeremiah has to learn to survive, and find his own identity.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things Review

This is an immensely powerful episodic narrative. Terrible things happen to Jeremiah over and over. He’s snatched from any secure way of life again and again – usually moving from one kind of abuse to another. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t grow up with much sense of self-worth, but he does develop a strong bond with his drug-addicted mother. He also grows up gay/transgender/queer – I don’t think he ever specifies how he identifies.

I found it very painful to read, because it’s so vivid. Are there really kids living like this? I guess there are, even though this book and the author’s other novel, Sarah, became notorious when it was revealed that the author, who claimed to be a young man whose work was based on his own life, was in fact a middle-aged woman using a family member to act the part of J.T. LeRoy for interviews and such. There’s no problem in authors having pen names, and there’s a long history of women using male names because they know their work will be taken more seriously (George Eliot springs to mind), but using an actor to convince the world the stories are based on real events and the young genius actually exists is another matter.

This edition was published to coincide with a movie about the author, Laura Albert, and her questionable marketing tactics, Author: The JT LeRoy Story. I believe she said that she felt she was “channeling” J.T. and that she didn’t feel like the author of the books at all, so it all seeemed okay. I wonder if she found a way to “channel” the royalties back to him… Whatever, I find the whole story fascinating and have no problem with it.

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