Book #31

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by JT Leroy

These are the stories of a young boy on the run, away from his past, hellbent towards an unknown future. Connected, they form a sometimes harrowing, sometimes bleakly funny, and often tender portrait of a complicated life.

I read Sarah back in 2009 and absolutely hated it. I felt it was underdeveloped, and was totally scandalised by the JT Leroy hoax. I picked up The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things expecting to experience the same kind of apathy, but actually I was surprised at how compelling, disturbing, and utterly heartbreaking this novel really is. I don't aim to comment on the Leroy hoax, as I don't find it interesting enough to look into the details. Read as a work of fiction, this novel exudes a punk cult mist which will cloud your head and leave you entirely messed up.

Narrated by a young boy, the scenes Leroy depicts for us are nothing but base. Born to an extremely young mother, he's placed into foster care until his mother now decides to claim him back. Her questionable life choices, means of making money, and ideas on how to raise a child, turn his life into the stuff of nightmares. The use of Jeremiah as narrator presents these situations to us in a naive, dream-like manner, making the reality seem far worse than it would if described by an adult.

The novel is comprised of disjointed chapters, jumping through time and back again, to confuse the sequence of our understanding. Each chapter tells a different story, and relates to a separate ordeal in the protagonist's life. They don't link well, and the result is choppy and jagged; this creates an uneasy sense of panic and chaos in the reader, and reflects our narrator's feelings of upheaval.

What sickened me most was the severe contrast between the first and final chapters. To see the boy's innocent beginnings with a foster family, and then see what he had become as a result of his own flesh and blood, was excruciating.

It's been a while since I've read something that truly tested my mettle, but this one uncomfortable read. It's a solace to be aware of the hoax, and to know this isn't the true story it was made out to be. It's a gripping, fascinating story, but if you don't hate every single moment, there's something wrong with you.

"The heart is deceitful above all things and it is exceedingly corrupt: Who can know it?"
-- Jeremiah 17:9