No stranger to creative nonfiction, the author comments on some premeditated misrepresentations and the perps who presented them to a gullible public.
Maliszewski begins his first book with a confession. In 1997, when he was a hack writer at a business journal in upstate New York, he contributed—under assumed names unknown to his employers—letters to the editor spouting raving inanities in deliberately execrable prose. His paper happily accepted and printed his spoofs, completely missing their satiric intent. Maliszewski depicts them as ironic commentary on society’s shoddy standards in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, Hans van Meegeren and Clifford Irving. His survey of other people’s artistic flimflams touches on diverse cons, frequently using secondary sources for documentation. (He interviewed some present-day practitioners by e-mail, perhaps not the best way to extract candid, unrehearsed responses.) His main interest is in invented nonfiction. The New York Sun in 1835 reported life on the moon, detected via “an immense telescope of an entirely new principle.” (See Matthew Goodman’s delightful The Sun and the Moon, 2008, for details.) People believed it, at least for a while. Fakes, posits Maliszewski, have a short shelf life. But how can we be sure that all frauds are detected? The author writes most engagingly on the application of phony journalism, displaying considerable understanding of deceitful writers like Jayson Blair, James Frey and JT LeRoy. He parses the literary dust-up regarding Michael Chabon’s fanciful autobiographical lectures. “An erstwhile practitioner of the not-always-completely-true” is perhaps not the most trustworthy guide to most subjects, but in this case, Maliszewski’s thoughtful, persuasive text rings, er, true.
Some entertaining thoughts on the inventive presentation of stuff that might have been so…but wasn’t.