The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (novel)
|9 June 2001|
|Media type||Hardback and paperback|
|LC Class||PS3562.E773 H4 2001|
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is a novel-like book of ten related short stories written by Laura Albert under the name JT LeRoy, a persona that she has described as an "avatar," asserting that it enabled her to write things that she was incapable of expressing as Laura Albert. These stories predate the 2000 JT LeRoy novel Sarah but were published in 2001, after Sarah was released. The title is taken from Jeremiah 17:9 (King James Bible version).
The stories are narrated by the boy Jeremiah, who at the age of four is taken away from his foster parents, the only family he's known. He is reclaimed by his mother Sarah, who had given birth to him as an adolescent but was compelled to turn him over to foster care. Profoundly disturbed from her own life of abuse and poverty, Sarah takes him on the road with her, moving through aimless and dangerous encounters with a series of men, some of whom beat and rape Jeremiah. She frequently instructs her son to pretend to be her sibling—sometimes her brother, sometimes her sister. She is also abusive to him and abandons him repeatedly.
The child-welfare system sends Jeremiah to live with Sarah's parents: Bible- and child-beating fanatics who abuse him as relentlessly as they had abused his mother. Sarah finds him and takes him away with her, but her life continues to spiral out of control. She becomes a lot lizard (a prostitute who works the truck stops) and eventually slides into a paranoid breakdown from crystal-meth abuse. Jeremiah is last seen as a 15-year-old street hustler in San Francisco, paying for a gay S&M session where he relives the beatings he had submitted to as a child.
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things employs narrative elements and characterizations that also occur in Sarah, although it avoids the picaresque and fable-like qualities of the later novel. Its stories are more violent, their situations more disturbing; but in Jeremiah's attempts to comprehend and redefine his mistreatment, the book shares Sarah's poetic language and sometimes fluid treatment of time. These JT LeRoy books, along with the novella Harold's End (2004), deal with themes of abandonment, betrayal, abuse, exploitation, and loss – the loss of identity and gender, as well as material and emotional loss. They also utilize the narrative device of having one's hidden life revealed to the judgmentalness and violence of others: The young Jeremiah shoplifts (on instruction of his mother) and is caught and beaten by the storeowner – a suffering and humiliation that recurs in his wanderings with Sarah as they struggle to feed themselves.