Saturday, 10 September 2011

47/111 – Sarah by J. T. Leroy

I bought this book quite a long time ago now. I can’t remember why I bought it, but I think it had something to do with the fact that someone had told me that when it was first published, it had been marketed as an auto-biography. I think it’s pretty clear when you start reading it that it’s fiction, however I can totally see why some people would have been shocked to read the auto-biography of a twelve-year old cross-dressing lot lizard. That’s a hooker, for the laymen here.

However I think I may have been getting mixed up. What actually happened is that a female author called Laura Albert was actually using the name J.T. Leroy as a pseudonym for her writing. She was even convicted of fraud for signing papers as him, and said that she thought she could write things as Leroy that she didn’t have the guts to write as herself. This info is all from Wikipedia, by the way.

I’ve been kind of haunted by this book since I read it. At first, when I finished it, I thought 'what the fuck'. I wasn’t sure if I even liked it or not. Since then I’ve been thinking about it a little, and it reminds me of so many things. It reminds me of a cross between: Vernon God Little, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Wetlands. And also maybe a little bit of The End of Alice and Lolita.

The more I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of a strangely brilliant book.

Cherry Vanilla is twelve years old and lives in a motel truck stop with Sarah, his hooker mother. He wants to be a lot lizard, just like her, and one day gets taken under the wing of Glad, the truck stop pimp. Glad wants to train him, and wants Cherry to start off slow, but he/she’s impatient and runs away to another truck-stop to get blessed by a road-kill Jackalope. While she’s there, she meets another pimp called Le Loup, who commandeers her. She decides to take on her mother's name, and doesn't tell anyone there that she's really a boy. Then for a while she works as some sort of saint, blessing the truckers who come to see her, but she gets away with being a boy because no one is allowed to touch her. Oh, and Le Loup pays her in Barbies.

Eventually, her ‘powers’ begin to wear off and the truckers and Le Loup grow tired of her. Eventually, they find out that Sarah is actually a boy when one of the cooks tries to have sex with her. Eventually she gets sent off to a more low-rent truck stop where he now has to work as a male hooker, until he’s rescued by his former pimp, Glad.

It’s… so weird. But also incredibly well done. For something that’s only 160 pages long, I’m having real trouble summing it all up in an easy way. It's definitely a very strange take on a coming-of-age story. It’s also a very feverish and sensual book, in a lot of ways. And I don’t mean that reading about young prostitutes is sensual. I mean that it’s set in the South, and the narration constantly refers to gorgeous food dishes, and silky fabrics. The whole thing feels very hot and swampy and overwhelming. Very close.

It also has quite a fantastical feel to it, for example when the prostitutes queue up to see the Jackalope, they are there to worship it and to look for special powers, such as the ability to tell what a john wants without him having to say it. Later, all the truckers believe that Sarah is a saint, which is of course a hoax. However this mystical feel threads itself all the way through the book, and even when it’s funny or unpleasant, it’s still kind of there.

When I first finished this, I thought I kind of hated it. A lot of it left me feeling very slimy, even though it's not all that graphic or sexual. There is a lot of implied violence, especially towards the lot lizards, however it's also very funny in places. I liked this a lot, but it still feels very elusive to me.

Next: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

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