on March 19, 2008
I had ordered this at the library even before the newstories had come out about the fraudulent nature of both book and author. I had read an article in the NYTimes magazine, with many photos, and though I had no idea at that time of any fakery, I remember thinking how odd it was that a young woman who had grown up in the ghetto, and who identified as part of the black gansta culture, would have a rather expensive looking home, decorated ala Pottery Barn. Additionally, she stated that her 8 year old daughter "was the first white baby she'd ever seen, so at first she thought there was something wrong with her" and that she was concieved with the first white man the author had ever slept with. Both these statements sounded rather implausible: who (even from TV) has not seen a white infant? and she's had many black boyfriends, but only ever got pregnant by the sole white boyfriend she had?
However, that in and of itself was not reason to refuse to read the book or to consider it false. But by the time the book came in, the newstory had broken. I mention this because before I could read "Love and Consequences" with an open mind, I knew the facts behind the case. Therefore, it is impossible for me to know how I would have reacted to it without bias, or how it might have fooled serious reviewers such as NYTs Michiko Kakutami. There is a suspicion I have that reviewers were weighted down with the sense of "political correctness" -- that if such a book WAS real, it would be improper not to treat it both seriously and gently...to overlook its obvious flaws.
How to review it then? as a "fake memoir" or a sincere piece of fiction? By either standard, I am afraid that "Love and Consequences" is not a very good book. I think without the drama of believing it was a real memoir, by a real "gangsta girl", no publisher would have given this a second look.
Readers (if you can get ahold of what is now a fairly rare edition) should be aware that most of the book is written in an annoying "ghetto-speak", full of phrases like "I dint kno u mah nigga", "Dizzam!" and "Wasssup?" This is incredibly annoying and difficult to read, and mostly unnecessary -- how is spelling "know" as K-N-O indicate anything, since they are pronounced the same way? (Sadly, NPR interviews with Ms. Seltzer indicate she actually talks in this sort of contrived patois, though she was raised in an affluent white neighborhood by her real parents, and attended a posh private school.)
The story is rambling and full of inconsistencies. Young Maggie is taken from her mother at the age of six, due to vague charge of molestation. (It is never clear whether this really happened, or was a mistake.) No mention is made of a father, and Maggie/Bree quickly forgets her real mother and home. This strikes an unbelievable note: a six year old would know and remember her real parents and ask about them. We aren't even told if the molestor was her mother, or someone else. If not her mother, why was no effort expended to try and reunite them, as is the norm with foster kids? What ever happened to the mother? Maggie/Bree never makes an attempt to locate her, even after she is emancipated at the age of 16.
The author also describes herself as being half Native American and half white, and as looking Mexican (despite a book jacket photo that clearly shows a white woman with pale skin and light brown hair). It strikes me as unusual that a social service agency would place an attractive white child in the roughest ghetto in LA, or that a Native American child would not be returned to her tribe. None of these odd circumstances are even discussed.
You would expect the book to show the voyage the author made from selling drugs and violent street life, to getting into college, but it's more of a rambling narrative lurching from set piece to another: people and dogs get killed, her foster brothers get thrown in jail, they run out of food, etc. In other words, its pretty much re-enforcing most of the stereotypes that middle class white Americans already carry around about "ghetto life", rather than challenging them. A avid viewer of the TV series "The Wire" could have cobbled this together from a mishmash of details on that show.
The book also ends abruptly, around the time that Maggie/Bree magically gets into college...in Oregon of all places. This had the potential to be the most fascinating part of the book -- how did a homegirl from a troubled background adjust to academic life, among privileged white classmates? Presumably she lived in a dorm, and on full scholarship -- how did that work out for her? How were her values tested and/or changed? But the book dodges all that by ending so suddenly and without transition or resolution.
In short, had I NOT known about the fraud behind the book, "Love and Consequences" was so dull and so hard to read with all the dialect, that I almost certainly would not have finished it, and by this time, it would be long forgotten. The only reason for reviewing or discussing it at this time is because there have been so many high profile frauds lately, that this one was discovered just as the book came into print and what it says on a much deeper level about the publishing industry -- how easily they are fooled when they see something they can exploit and "market", what an easy ride they give to authors who have a sympathic, handwringing sort of backstory....how important an attractive author, with an attractive marketable story, IS today and how it utterly outweighs the requirement that a book be of high quality...that it be LITERATURE and not simply the marketing means to an end.
Now -- that's a subject for a really good book, and I hope someone will write it.