Au­thor: The JT LeRoy Story

AU­THOR: THE JT LEROY STORY, doc­u­men­tary, rated R, Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

As a teenager, Laura Al­bert be­gan mak­ing calls to cri­sis hot­lines. Though her own child­hood was one of abuse, ne­glect, and men­tal ill­ness, she al­ways in­vented a more dra­matic life for her­self, us­ing a male per­sona when she spoke to the sup­port­ive phone coun­selors. In the early 1990s, then in her late twen­ties and newly mar­ried, Al­bert was still in­dulging in this hobby when a ther­a­pist en­cour­aged her — or the thir­teen-yearold boy he thought she was — to write about her life. This set in mo­tion what has be­come known as one of the great­est lit­er­ary hoaxes of all time.

But in Au­thor: The JT LeRoy Story, Al­bert re­jects the word “hoax,” and for good rea­son. As LeRoy, the gen­der-fluid ex-junkie son of a truck­stop pros­ti­tute, Al­bert wrote three crit­i­cally ac­claimed works of fic­tion, in­clud­ing Sarah and The Heart is De­ceit­ful Above All Things. Fear­ing she would be re­jected by read­ers be­cause she looked noth­ing like the per­sona she had created, Al­bert paid her sis­ter-in-law, Sa­van­nah Knoop, to pose as LeRoy for pub­lic ap­pear­ances. Once em­bod­ied by Knoop, LeRoy be­came an in­ter­na­tional lit­er­ary it-boy. Knoop, as LeRoy, hob­nobbed with celebri­ties like Bono and Court­ney Love and even found work as a fash­ion model, with Al­bert act­ing as his Bri­tish as­sis­tant, “Speedie,” all the while. When the de­cep­tion was dis­cov­ered by the me­dia in 2006, some friends, fans, and fam­ily felt be­trayed. But the books really ex­ist, Al­bert re­minds us, and she really wrote them, so the hoax, if that’s what it was, wasn’t ex­actly lit­er­ary. Au­thor, writ­ten and di­rected by Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel John­ston), is not the kind of doc­u­men­tary that an­swers fun­da­men­tal ques­tions sur­round­ing Al­bert, such as whether she is truly delu­sional, a nar­cis­sis­tic liar, or an op­por­tunis­tic per­for­mance artist with some agenda that, if re­vealed, would make sense of the whole saga. Whether ev­ery­thing she tells us about her early life is true — and whether or not it ac­tu­ally ex­plains her be­hav­ior — is for view­ers to pon­der on their own. To Al­bert, LeRoy is part of her and also sep­a­rate, and Knoop, as a per­son, doesn’t seem to ex­ist at all. Au­thor is Al­bert’s ver­sion of events, full stop, and watch­ing her tell it is riv­et­ing, as is wit­ness­ing just how many very fa­mous peo­ple be­friended her on the strength of her writ­ing. Mary Karr, Tom Waits, Gus Van Sant — the list goes on.

Al­bert was al­ways on the out­side look­ing in, ashamed of her weight and sure that no one would want to know her, so she con­tin­u­ally rein­vented her­self un­til she all but dis­ap­peared. Knoop, in her brief ap­pear­ance in this well-made, well-paced movie, says they got away with it be­cause peo­ple be­lieve what they are told. Au­thor is an ef­fec­tively dizzy­ing fall down the same rab­bit hole LeRoy climbed out of in the first place. — Jen­nifer Levin

Through the look­ing glass: Sa­van­nah Knoop (as JT LeRoy) and Laura Al­bert

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