Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel & Fraud by David Rakoff

03 May

Front CoverRunning short on cash after years of success as a biographer, Israel turned to forgery to keep afloat. She started small, as most criminals do, stealing letters from a poorly guarded library research room to sell to autograph hunters. Realizing that content could increase value, she began appending juicy post scripts to the stolen letters. Pretty soon, she began putting her years of research experience, and her ability to get inside a subject’s head, to create forged letters from beginning to end. Borrowing oft-used phrases by the purported writer, as well as biographical information, she created new letters out of whole cloth. When she suspected that the dealers she was working with were beginning to get suspicious, she brought on an accomplice, a gay friend with experience as a con man. In 1992, she was caught and sentenced.

This book is a breezy read, unapologetic to a fault, and offers a peek into the mind of a creative person who relied on a shortcut until it backfired.

 Expecting another tome of literary forgery (see above), I was surprised to find that nothing could be further from the truth. Fraud is a collection of essays, most previously published or broadcast on NPR’s This American Life. The acerbic viewpoint of a jaded New Yorker (via Toronto), the link between the stories is Rakoff’s feeling of not belonging – of being a fraud – no matter the situation.

A very fast read, this collection could not be called witty, but it is an intriguing peek into the life perspective of one man. My favorite story, “Christmas Freud”, tells of the year Rakoff, dressed as the infamous psychoanalyst, spent four weeks sitting as part of one of the famous display window’s of Barneys New York. Oh, Simon Doonan, how I love you. Rakoff writes of feeling, at first, like a polar bear on exhibit, of scoping out guys through the window, and of his exhilarating feelings of empowerment when he started putting his years in therapy to good use, psychoanalyzing his friends as they lay on his couch, actually helping a few achieve catharsis. This piece is beautifully written, and a wonderful example of the rest of his work.

**Unfortunately, Rakoff lost his bout with cancer in August of last year. One of the essays in his collection tells of his first brush with cancer, dealing with life-interrupting Hodgkin’s Disease at age 22. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in 2010.**

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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Book Reviews


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