Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sarah by JT Leroy

I remember wanting to read JT Leroy's work back in the early 2000s when Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things came out and there was a lot of buzz about them. Before I got to them, however, a literary hoax scandal broke about the author's identity. After I learned that these supposedly loosely autobiographical novels were written by a straight woman, Laura Albert, and not by a gay man with a tragic personal history of being forced to turn tricks as a child, I lost my desire to read them.

Author, a documentary about Laura Albert and her use of the persona JT Leroy, came out in 2016. Watch the trailer: Albert/LeRoy's story is quite astonishing. The film generated more controversy, revolving around archival tapes used without permission from the famous people who didn't know they were being recorded, folks such as Dennis Cooper, Gus Van Sant, Asia Argent, Courtney Love and Bono.

Sarah was reissued in 2016 (to coincide with the documentary) and chosen for my Feminist Book Club, so I've finally crossed it off my TBR. At our meeting, we spent a lot of time talking about how the story surrounding the author's identity affects the way we read her work.

We also tried to figure out how we would categorize this novel that Tom Spanauer called "road-kill beautiful." It reminded me of a cross between something by Chuck Palahniuk, and Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.  A dark fairytale: raw, horrific, funny, whimsical, offensive and sad.

The first-person narrator is a twelve-year-old boy - who likes to pass as a girl - living with his mother Sarah at a truck stop, part of a group of prostitutes working under the authority of a man named Glad.

I take daily lessons from various boys of Glad's, who affectionately refer to each other as baculum, which Glad tells me means 'little rod' in Latin. I practice rolling a condom on a man with my teeth without him knowing.
I had to google images of raccoon baculum after reading this.
Turns out, many kinds of mammals have penis bones.

Sarah always says before she goes man shopping, 'I look so good when I enter this bar, I'll make all the bitches nervouser than long-tailed cats at a rocking chair convention.'
(Other colourful expressions include "faster than a feather singeing in hell,""ready as snippers at bull-ball cutting' time," and "Don't pee down my back and tell me it's raining!")

I notice her left eye behind her Hollywood sunglasses is half shut in black-and-blue lumps hardly concealed by streaks of powdery beige foundation.
'The trick is to use an oil-based, yellow-tone foundation. You should never use matte!' Sarah would say, wincing while tentatively sponging on tan goop. 'I swear it should say so on the bottle: 'Do not under any circumstance use matte to cover your man's fist kisses.'

'I had my triplets using five layers of rubbers with a layer of tin-foil gum wrapper thrown in for good measure...' says a woman so narrow and white she looks like a body-of-Christ wafer.

'Mary Grace, you just got hit with very acidic ejaculit,' says another woman. 'I heard of truckers' juice so full of strip-mine slag they can burn through a wooden condom!'

I've heard it said too that women have brought their husbands that won't quit drinking their hairspray and nail-polish remover. Mommas have brought their strip-mine babies born with arms growing out of their heads like rabbit ear antennas. Grandparents have brought their grandchildren blinded from masturbating. Not one of them was ever cured.

The quotes above will give you ample notion of what you are getting in for with this novel. The sense of humour left me feeling a strange mix of charmed, dismayed and horrified. I recommend this novel only for those who are curious, and prepared to feel queasy over the portrayal of a child prostitute who has been taught to equate with love with abuse. It's also good for discussing issues of appropriation.

The Feminist Book Club followed up our discussion of Sarah by selecting a memoir written by an actual queer sex worker for the following month: Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

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