The tradition of American memoir is a rich and varied one, from Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast, to Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, to J. Edgar Hoover’s Memoirs of a Cross-Dressing G-Man. That vein of silver has been tarnished recently by fabrications such as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years”, in which the author claims to have been adopted by a pack of wolves while walking on her hands—backwards--through Nazi Germany.
Now comes “Love and Consequences”, written by a white woman who grew up with her biological parents in a wealthy home, who claimed to be a half-Native American drug runner raised by two out of three Pointer Sisters. It’s enough to make you question the critical faculties of top New York editors who let these howlers slip by. Everyone knows there are four Pointer Sisters.
In a variation on Gresham’s Law, counterfeit tales tend to crowd out true life stories such as my own, Stuttering Boy, With Pogo Stick (self-published, 2006), but since publishers are pressed to come up with ever-more startling facts not wrapped in the dust jacket of another loser’s coming-of-age novel, the problem won’t go away soon.
What this country needs is a test, similar to the “Fake Bad Scale” used by insurance companies to weed out phony emotional distress claims, that could distinguish made-up memoirs from the real thing. Here is my first cut—use a #2 lead pencil to circle your answers:
You were raised by:
(a) your future first spouse
During World War II you were:
(a) Eva Braun’s electrolosist
(b) a tail-gunner on the Enola Gay
(c) roadie for an all-female gypsy guitar combo
You hit bottom the night you:
(a) flew into Paris with Lindbergh
(b) shared a jail cell with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rick James
(c) mistook Twyla Tharp for Truman Capote at a Bronx Banshees roller derby tryout
After decades of self-destructive behavior, you entered rehab to:
(a) kick a crippling addiction to jujubes
(b) meet new people and make new friends
(c) take a break from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the wolf den
You turned your life around when you realized that:
(a) life is for the living, unless you’re a funeral director
(b) don’t sweat the small stuff, unless the small stuff is a fatal virus
(c) if you hold an empty gin bottle under hot running water, you can make it secrete another half shot
Score three points for each “a”, five for each “b” and seven for each “c”. Divide the total by your age—the result should be Avogadro’s Number. If not, your score is 102-98 with thirty-four seconds on the clock and one timeout remaining, and cannot be combined with any other promotion.
If you’ve read this far, or if you know someone who’s read this far, your memoir is ready for publication as fiction or non-fiction, whichever comes first.