O Me of Little Faith

There’s another literary scandal unfolding, and this one’s pretty juicy, to mix a delicious metaphor. Margaret B. Jones just released a harrowing memoir called Love and Consequences. It’s about how she, a half-white, half-Native American, ended up in a foster family in south L.A. — where she joined the Bloods, sold drugs, lived the life of a street thug and somehow survived enough to write a gripping and acclaimed book about it.

Turns out it was all fake. Margaret B. Jones doesn’t exist and never existed. She’s actually a white woman named Margaret Seltzer. Little Margaret grew up with her biological family in a nicer part of L.A. and now lives in Eugene, Oregon, which is not exactly a haven for street gangs. Margaret’s own sister uncovered the whole scam when she saw a profile of “Jones” — complete with a photo of Seltzer — which discussed the book and the author’s hard life.

Only her life wasn’t that hard after all, and the sister got in touch with Riverview Press, the publisher of Love and Consequences, and told them the whole thing was made-up. Riverview canceled a book tour (slated to begin today in Eugene) and yanked the title off the shelves.

According to Jones/Seltzer’s apology, she was an activist and wanted to tell the story of these young gang kids, and “there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”

This is flat-out crazy. My big questions: How did Seltzer not think she’d be found out? How was she so successful in fleecing Riverview? How did she fool her agent? And why not just write a book of fiction anyway?

Writing a memoir is hard. Anytime you’re writing about something that happened in your childhood it’s going to be difficult to accurately recall every little conversation and detail. I don’t know of any children who walk around taking notes on their lives in order to have something to reference when they’re writing a book 20 years in the future. So I have some sympathy for memoirists who’ve been accused of playing too loose with the facts.

But to make the whole thing up and not think anyone’s gonna find out? To plan a book tour in Eugene, Oregon — where you live — and think you’re going to read from your memoir as Margaret B. Jones and hope no one who actually knows you shows up and wonders why that Seltzer lady is pretending to have been a gangbanger? How exactly is that supposed to work?

That’s so delusional it’s hard to comprehend.

Love and Consequences is ranking pretty high on Amazon right now, but the “it’s all fake” reviewers are beginning to pour in.

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