"I kissed her clavicle, marvelling at the shimmering muscles of her breastplate... she whispered: 'You're beautiful, JT'." Savannah Knoop, the feminine public face of fictitious novelist JT Leroy, begins her memoir in softcore mode. Indeed, the baby-dyke fantasies that swirl around actress Asia Argento, who produced and acted in The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, are probably the only real thing in this one-sided anatomy of a hoax.
JT Leroy's novels, or more specifically their account of a young boy's life of abuse, abandonment and prostitution, were exposed as a fake by The New York Times two years ago. Knoop was fingered as the person modelling for author photographs and events, and her sister-in-law, Laura Albert, identified as the actual writer. Many a celebrity had declared themselves fans of this hot, streetwise young star. They looked foolish when the scam was revealed; but more importantly, a youthful audience felt genuinely betrayed. It wasn't the literature that was important, but the damaged life it described. As books, they were not especially well-written, but Leroy's triumph against indescribable adversity was totemistic.
Paradoxically, Knoop is nearer the authentic JT Leroy than the self-aggrandising woman who dreamed up the whole thing. Laura Albert does not come out well from this memoir; Knoop mentions that she earned a living for a long time as a phone sex worker. A more reflective book would have teased out the extraordinary dynamics between Albert, Knoop and her half-brother Geoff, who were all in on the plan. Still, there are good things here.
As JT Leroy's fame grew, Albert became increasingly resentful that she was not the source of the adulation she craved. She behaved bizarrely in public towards Knoop, fuelling speculation that the author was in the hands of a Svengali. The emperor's new clothes were mostly donated by Asia Argento, who helped Knoop create a signature look with a vintage snakeskin belt and hat on a blond wig perched above ever-present shades.
This memoir is a soppy, wounded love-letter to Argento, who supported JT all the way. It would be intriguing to know what Argento thinks of Knoop and the JT Leroy books now. That, sadly, will have to wait for another day.