J. T. Leroy - "Sarah"
J. T. Leroy - "Sarah"
2000, 4 stars, 150 pages
This was one of the books suggested for the Book Club, so I thought I would make a thread so people could discuss it, since there seems to be interest...
I love this book. It's short, easy to read and kind of twisted. Here's a review I wrote for my grad school monthly several years ago when I first read it.
I had bought myself a copy of a magazine called FACE (perhaps a review on that to come in the near future, a great mag) for reading on a long flight back to California from New York City. I read an article about a young male writer on what it feels like for a girl. It blows me out of the water. I must read more.
When I get home, the second thing I did (I had to go to the bathroom, OK?) was run to the bookstore (OK, so really I drove, but run sounds much more literal) and buy a copy of this young writers novel, "Sarah."
I finished it that night.
Anything I could possibly write about J.T. Leroy or his novel would only do it injustice. It is truly one of the literary classics of our time. Stark, honest, comical, brutal, unwavering in its tone and nature. Jerry Stahl, renowned author of Permanent Midnight, says the following about Leroy: "JT Leroy writes like Flannery O'Connor tied to the bed and plied with angel dust." Others compare his stylistic renderings to Mark Twain, William S. Burroughs, Nathaniel West and his mentor Dennis Cooper.
While the comparisons are certainly praise worthy of our young muse, Leroy is in a class of his own, very much with a distinct, unique voice that distinguishes him as his own individual.
The novel itself is a moving, twisted tale glimpse into the life of Cherry Vanilla, a twelve year old boy who dreams of becoming the best truck stop whore there ever was. His mother, Sarah, is his idol and rival. The relationship between mother and son is what drives the plot, even though Sarah is noticeably absent throughout most of the novel.
Wanting the experience it takes to be the best, Cherry runs off and adopts his mothers name. The outrageous twists and turns of the novel take the reader on an emotional, sometimes hysterical roller coaster of a ride. Over the course of just under 200 pages, you will meet a gourmet chef at a truck stop whose culinary delights will make your mouth water while you read, a mysterious Jack-a-lope who brings good luck to all who touch it, backstabbing prostitutes, and most ironically religious sainthood for the lost youth.
While the novel itself is often hilarious in nature, where it really gets you is that this book is somewhat autobiographical in nature. With this understanding, suddenly the book and its tone become biting, almost hard to take. The subject matter instantly becomes more difficult and impossible to comprehend. The words will spin around in your head, like a merry-go-round gone wayward, dizzying and confusing you to the point where you will often have to re-read a passage over and over again, until finally it hits you smack dab in the middle of your bulbous forehead like a freight train. Let there be no mistake, this is not an easy read. It hurts.
Leroy has the capability of expressing himself through his words in a manner most writers cannot duplicate. Rather than telling a story, he lives it. He shows you the life of a West Virginian boy, confused and lost. Leroy never really stops and explains what he is writing about, he lets the story do that for him. It forces you into his world, placing you there almost involuntarily. It makes the reality of this implausible world seem possible. You smell the food wavering in, you hear the voices talking, you understand the pain and emotion, you comprehend the actuality of a twelve year old boy going through all of this. Or at least you want to.
Leroy's imagery is vibrant and colorful. He doesn't just describe a color by saying "the pretty blue dress," rather he puts you in the damn dress and makes you feel how soft and warm it is, makes you see how the color accentuates the features. The characters are given such depth that you feel as if you know them, that you could pull up to a West Virginia truck stop and just start talking with them at any given time.
Sarah is about survival. It's about one persons desire to transcend above it all. It's about the harsh reality of abuse as seen through the eyes of lost innocence. To Leroy's narrator, the abusers are his heroes and the abuse his narcotic. The conclusion, vague and unresolved, turns this novel from merely a really good novel to one of classic proportions.
There aren't many books that blow me away. Even fewer writers that do. J.T. Leroy and his book, "Sarah," do both. Get it now. You won't be sorry.
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