The Times learned an important lesson this week: Never trust a smart girl with acrylic fingernails. Love and Consequences, the acclaimed memoir of Margaret B. Jones, a half-white, half–Native American former foster child who grew up in South Central L.A., was the subject of two Times features and seemed poised to hit the best-seller list when released by Penguin this week — until it turned out that Margaret Jones was actually Margaret Seltzer, a white, private-school educated 33-year-old whose story was as fake as said fingernails. In retrospect, it seems almost laughable that anyone believed Seltzer’s stories in the first place — they have whiff of cliché and were maybe even suspiciously detailed: As the Times noted in a feature last month, the author had a “novelist’s eye for the psychological detail and an anthropologist’s eye for social rituals and routines.” Indeed!
“The reason I wanted to write the book is that all the time, people would say to me, you’re not what I imagine someone from South L.A. would be like,” she said, curled up on her living room sofa, which was jacketed in a brown elasticized cover from Target. Her feet rested on a chunky coffee table from World Market. The house smelled of black-eyed peas, which were stewing with pork neck bones — a dish from the repertory of her foster mother, known as “Big Mom,” whose shoebox of recipes she inherited.
“Big Mom” and her shoebox of recipes? Yeah, we smell something, and it ain’t pork stew.
But Seltzer’s story provides no opportunity for Schadenfreude. As Gawker put it last night, Seltzer is “like James Frey, but sadder.” She was sold out to her publisher by her sister, before the book ever came out, before she ever got her giant payday and her Oprahmoment (dodged a bullet, there, considering what happened to Frey). She has a young daughter. Plus, her motivations are kind of unclear. “I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Seltzer tells the Times in her mea culpa today. “Maybe it’s an ego thing—don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.” And early on, when asked what she would do if the book blew up and film rights were bought, Seltzer told the Times she’d probably open a community center. “I don’t really need that iPod that shows movies.” Well, she’s sure not getting one now.