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The extraordinary stories that brought the author a cult following at the age of sixteen.
Circulated copies of LeRoy's handwritten notebook pages brought early attention to the then unpublished author. In print for the first time, these loosely connected autobiographical stories describe the harrowing experiences of a young boy's life on the run. From the heartbreaking "Meteor," where he struggles for the attention of his wandering mother, to the paranoia of "Coal"-'Whenever ...
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The extraordinary stories that brought the author a cult following at the age of sixteen.
Circulated copies of LeRoy's handwritten notebook pages brought early attention to the then unpublished author. In print for the first time, these loosely connected autobiographical stories describe the harrowing experiences of a young boy's life on the run. From the heartbreaking "Meteor," where he struggles for the attention of his wandering mother, to the paranoia of "Coal"-'Whenever things feel out of control I know the black coal is doing it, and I know what to do, my mom taught me'-to living on the streets of San Francisco in "Natoma Street," JT LeRoy's voice is as lyrical and nuanced as the readers of his acclaimed debut novel Sarah have come to expect. Fresh, raw, and absolutely unforgettable, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is sure to establish LeRoy as one of the most compelling voices in contemporary fiction.
His long white buck teeth hang out from a smile, like a wolf dog. His eyes have a vacant, excited, mad look. The lady holding it, crouched down to my height, is grinning too widely. She looks like my baby-sitter, without the braces, the same long blond braid that starts somewhere inside the top of her head. She shakes Bugs Bunny in my face, making the carrot he's clutching plunge up and down like a knife. I wait for one of the social workers to tell her I'm not allowed to watch Bugs Bunny.
'Look what your momma got you,' I hear.
I say it softly like a magic word you use only when severely outnumbered.
'Right here, honey,' the woman with the bunny says. She smiles even wider, looking up at the three surrounding social workers, nodding at them. Their tilted heads grin back. She shakes the rabbit again.
'I'm your momma.' I watch her red, glossy lips, and I can taste the word, metallic and sour in my mouth. And I ache so badly for Her, the real one that rescues me.
I stare out at the blank faces, and from deep inside I scream and scream for Her to come save me.
When we first get back to the tiny, one-bedroom bungalow, I throw myself on the floor, kicking and screaming for my real momma.
She ignores me and makes dinner.
'Look, Spaghetti-Os,' she says. I won't move. I fall asleep on the floor. I wake up in a narrow cot with Bugs Bunny next to me, and I scream.
She shows me the few toys she's gotten me. I have more and better at my real home. I throw hers out the window.
One of the social workers comes by, and I cry so hard I throw up on her navy blue tassel shoes.
'He'll get used to it, Sarah,' I hear her tell my new mom. 'Hang in there, honey,' she tells her, and pats her shoulder.
At lunch she gives me peanut butter and jelly with the crusts on. My real momma cuts the crust off. I fling the plastic Mickey Mouse plate off the table.
She spins around, hand raised into a fist. I scream, she freezes, her fist shaking, a foot away from my chest.
We both stare at each other, breathing hard. And something passes between us, and her face seals up. I don't know what it is exactly.
As my sobs start she grabs her denim jacket and leaves. I'd never been alone before, not even for five minutes, but I know something has changed, something is different, and I don't scream.
I run to my bed, curl up tight, and wait for everything to be different.
The phone's shrill ringing wakes me up. It's dark without the dinosaur night-light I used to have.
'Thank you, Operator, it works,' I hear her say quietly. Then, almost yelling, 'Hello? ... Hello? ... Yes, Jeremiah is here ...'
My heart starts pounding. 'Jeremiah, honey, are you awake?' she calls out, her shadow haunting my partly opened door.
'Momma?' I call out, pushing my sheets away.
'Yes, honey, it's your foster parents.' I run to her and the phone.
'Oh yes, he's here.' I reach up for the phone with every muscle.
'What ... oh ...' She frowns. I jump up and down, straining.
'Bad? ... Well he hasn't been very bad ...' She turns away from me, the black phone cord wrapping around her.
'Momma!' I shout, and pull on the phone cord.
'Yes ... I see,' she says, nodding, turning away from me farther. 'Oh, is that why? OK, I'll tell him.'
'Gimme ... Momma!' I yell, and yank hard on the cord.
'So you don't want to speak to him?'
'Daddy!' I yell, and grab hard. The phone receiver flies out of her hands, bounces on the blue, sparkled linoleum, and slides under the table. It spins like a bottle, the mouthpiece facing up. I spring for it, sliding like my daddy taught me when we played whiffleball. Just as my finger touches the dull, black plastic of the phone, it jerks and flies out from under the table and away from me.
'Got it!' I hear her gasp. 'Hello? ... Yes! Yes! He did that ... Fuck yeah, I'll tell him.'
I twist around and drag myself from under the table.
'OK, thanks.' She smiles into the phone.
'No!' I reach up with my arms.
'Y'all take care ...'
'No!' My feet skid under me, leaving me back on my stomach.
'Good-bye.' In slow motion she swirls like a ballerina, a grin wide on her face.
Her arm rises into the air, the spiral cord swinging in front of me. I grab for it, her hand sweeps backward, and I catch nothing.
'Momma!' I scream, and I watch the receiver lowered into its cradle on the couch's white plastic end table.
I scramble to the phone and snatch it up. 'Momma, Momma, Daddy!' I shout into it.
'They hung up,' she says. She sits on the opposite end of the couch and lights a cigarette, her bare legs pulled to her chest, tucked under her large white T-shirt.
Even though I hear the dial tone humming, I still call for them. I press the receiver to my ear as tightly as I can, in case they're there, past the digital tone calling to me like voices lost in a snowstorm.
'They're gone,' she says, blowing smoke out. 'You wanna know what they said?'
'Hello? ... Hello?' I say quieter.
'They didn't want to talk to you.'
'Hello?' I turn away from her and wrap myself in the cord.
'I said they did not want to talk to you.'
'Uh-uh,' I whisper. I twist more, and the receiver slips out of my hands, banging on the linoleum.
'Don't you throw my phone!' She gets up quickly and grabs the receiver at my feet.
'You ain't gonna be throwing things no more,' she says, and unwraps the wire snaked around me, jerking it violently around my Superman pajamas like a whip.
She hangs up the phone and goes back to the couch, crossing her legs. She twists backward to look at me.
'I went through a lot to get you back, and you're going to be grateful, you, you little shit.'
A loud gasp pops out of me, a silent sob. I'm beyond regular crying.
When Momma and Daddy go out without me, leaving me with Cathy the baby-sitter, I always cry a while. Sometimes I even scream and lay on the wood floor near the front door, smelling the leftover trail of sweet perfume Momma left. But I always stop crying, remembering my special treats left in the top drawer for being a good, grown-up boy. Cathy and me watch the Rainbow Brite video, and she reads three books to me, and when I wake up they're back, Momma and Daddy are always back in their place. 'We always come back,' they tell me.
'Do you want to know what they said about you?' I hear her puff hard on the cigarette. I stare at a huge water bug scurrying under the couch past her foot. I shake my head no, turn around, and go back to my bed.
I grab Bugs Bunny from under the cot where I'd shoved him, wrap my arms around him under my blankets, and between hiccups whisper in his oversize fuzzy ear, 'When you wake up, they'll be back, they'll be back.'
That was the first night I wet. I woke up feeling a cold dampness under my blankets as if an air conditioner had been turned on somewhere beneath me. I'd never wet before, unlike Alex, my best friend from preschool when I lived with my real parents. When he spent the night, my momma had to put the special plastic cover under the galaxy sheets. 'He has accidents,' I repeated to my momma as I helped her stretch the opaque white plastic over the mattress. 'I don't,' I told her.
'No, you use the toilet like a big boy.' She smiled at me, and I laughed with joy. I had a giraffe ladder I'd climb up on. I'd stand tall as a giant, raise the seat myself, and I'd rain down my powerful stream. I used to float my toy boats in the toilet and pour down on them, sinking them, till my mom explained that's not good to do, so I did it in my bath instead, making my speedboats and tankers suffer under my forceful gale.
When Alex and I lay in bed discussing who had a bigger rocketship that went fastest to the moon, I felt proud every time I heard the aluminum foil-like crinkle of him moving on his sheets against the smooth swishing of mine. 'It's okay,' I'd tell him in the morning, patting his shoulder. 'It's just an accident. You'll use the giraffe one day, too.'
I peel the wet blanket and sheet off me carefully and look down at the wet, my wet. Bugs Bunny grins up at me, his fuzzy cheek fur matted and damp.
I sit up slowly and stare at the bright yellow room around me. I had had dinosaurs painted all over my old walls. Here, tacked up, is a poster of a large clown, frowning, maybe crying, holding a droopy flower.
'Look at the clown, look at the clown, isn't he funny?!' my new momma had said. I nodded but didn't smile. In my old room my momma would complain, 'There's no place to put all these toys.' Two blue milk crates side by side hold all my clothes and toys now, and they're not half-full.
I stand there leaning against the cot, staring at it all: the dark wet patch on my red Superman pajamas, the orange swirly-patterned linoleum lumpy and bubbled like little turtles are living beneath it, the whitish brown cottage-cheese stuff in the ceiling corners, the ABC books I'd outgrown six months ago buried in the crates.
And I know I won't cry. I just know it isn't possible. I undress quickly and repeat to myself all I need to dress myself. I dig in the milk crate: one shirt, two arms, one underwear, two legs, one pants, two legs, two socks, two feet. My old sneakers. I put on the ones I can close and open with sticky stuff by myself, not hers that she got me, ones you have to tie. Two sneakers, two feet.
'You dressed yourself!' she'd say.
'All by myself' I'd tell her, and I'd get a star on my chart. Twenty stars and I got a matchbox car. I had near a hundred of them.
I go into the living room quietly. She lies on the couch, curled under a fuzzy blanket with a lion on it. Open cans and cigarettes are strewn on the floor and coffee table. The TV is on with no sound, no cartoons, just a man talking.
I tiptoe past her, silently pull a chair over to the front door, climb up, and noiselessly turn the locks. I know how, my daddy taught me in case of a fire or an emergency and I needed to get out.
I climb down, turn the knob, and pull. The light makes me squint, and the coolness of the air makes me shiver, but I know I have to go, it's an emergency. I have to get out.
I walk for a long time, staring at my sneakers, the only familiar thing around me. I concentrate on them, walking quickly on the cracked, weed-filled sidewalk, trying to escape the crooked bungalows, all with sagging, rotting porches, with paint cracking like dried mud. Dogs bark and howl, a few birds chirp now and then, and the slam of car doors makes me jump as people get home or leave for work.
A huge gray factory hovers up ahead, like a metallic castle floating in its thick, yellowish bellows of smoke. I watch my sneakers for directions. They're from home. Like stories about carrier pigeons I loved to hear, I know they'll return me to home. I survive crossing streets by myself for the first time. Even though no cars are visible, I run, my heart thudding, expecting to be crushed suddenly. I walk fast, shaking my hands like rattles to keep me going, like a train's engine forcing me forward, keeping me from stopping, keeping me from curling up in a tight ball and trying to wake up.
Past the heavy-gated factory, chugging and snorting so loud I can't hear the soft padding of my sneakers on the gravel as I run. Run from the gaping, smoking, metal dragon's mouth, trying to swallow me whole. And then I'm going uphill, through a field so thick with brown grass I can't see my sneakers, but I know at the top I'll see my home, my real home. I'll run through the door and into their arms, and everything will be right again.
My foot catches on a half-buried rubber tire, and I fall forward, my chin and hands digging into the reddish brown earth.
I lie there quietly, too surprised to move. I lift my chin and stare at the tilted world around me. The dark clay earth's spread out and glitters from the multicolored shards, as if a pane of stained glass is hiding beneath.
A slow stream of watery red fills the moats my sliding hands made, and the pain, stinging and sharp, stops my breath. I pull my hands back and there are wet dark slits in them. My white T-shirt catches the red tear in my chin.
And I know they're really gonna be sorry now. I get up and run toward the top of the cliff. The tears are coming now and little yelplike screams slowly getting louder as I get closer.
Right over the hill is the house with the big green lawn, and swings and slides, and my castle in the back. My house.
I'll burst through the door and scream till they come running like they did when I fell off my swing and scraped my forehead. But I won't shut up, I won't let them kiss it better. I'll scream till the roof flies off, till all the windows shatter, till they themselves blow apart and explode. I'll make them sorry.
I'm almost at the top of the hill. I can smell the eucalyptus scent of the living room, hear the tick tick of the wood clock that chimes with a colorful cuckoo every hour.
I scream and lunge for the top.
The grass is deep and thick on the flat hilltop. I push my way through the brush. I see the edge ahead where it all drops down, down to the yard fenced in white. I slow down, my breath hitching, my hands balled into soggy fists. I reach out a shaking arm and move aside the last weeds blocking my way home.
I'll let them cover me in kisses. I'll let them hug me long and hard. I'll let them give me hot cocoa and cookies because I'm such a brave boy.
I'll let them, if only their house were down there instead of the tight rows and rows of peeling, rotting bungalows.
At that ledge, overlooking the worn and ruined houses, I understand the world has suddenly become as frightening, violent, and make-believe as the cartoons I wasn't supposed to watch.
When Sarah walks into the brick police station I scream so loud, everything goes silent except her high heels clicking toward me.
I cling to the officer who found me, showed me how to use his radio, bought me a chocolate ice cream, and let me wear his cap after I let a nurse clean my cuts.
'Your mommy's here.' He leans down and tries to push me toward her. They speak above me, and I can smell the strong perfume on her, not like my mom's clean laundry scent.
I hold tighter and bury my face in the soft dark blue weave of his pants.
'I thought you wanted to go home to your mommy,' he says, looking down at me. I shake my head no.
'He's just confused,' she says. She crouches and whispers into my ear, 'If you come with me now, I'll take you back to your momma.' I turn to face her. She smiles, winks at me, and puts out her hand, tan and thin with long red nails.
I slowly let go of the policeman's leg and give her my hand, wrapped in a bandage and stained with chocolate ice cream that looks like blood.
'Good boy.' The officer pats my head. I let my mother lead me through the brightly lit fluorescent station, but my head is turned back to the policeman, watching him wave, and smile good-bye, as if I know I will never see the police in that magic, protective light ever again.
She only nods her head while blowing smoke out of the window as we drive from the police station.
'Take me home,' I repeat again and again. She stares straight ahead. She slides her palm up to her forehead in a heavy, slow movement, like ironing.
Soon the road looks familiar, the cracked two-lane tar and the big, metal factory, its pipes connecting to itself like silver luggage handles. Panic lurches in my chest, and I turn toward her in my seat.
'You said you'd take me home!' Her lips suck in as she chews them.
I pound on the window. 'Lemme out, lemme out, lemme out!' The car veers suddenly off the road, opposite the gated factory. The ripping sound of the emergency brake reminds me of my daddy pulling up to our house, and I sob. She holds her cigarette up and blows on its red, dusty tip till it glows like a night lamp.
'It's bad to smoke,' I tell her between gasps. 'My momma, my momma says so.'
She looks over at me. 'Is that what they say?' she says, real singsong-like. I nod, spit I can't swallow dribbling from my mouth.
'Well, I'll have to make myself a note to thank them very, very much.' She sucks hard on the cigarette, then pulls out the ashtray, crumbles it into it, and blows a stream of white smoke into my face.
'Does that meet your spec-i-fications?' She smiles, closemouthed.
The tears are bubbling in my eyes, hazing everything like a cotton film.
'OK, OK. Now before you start wailing, let's you and I have us a little chat.' She turns to me, a leg bent on the bench-type seat between us. I blink at my tears, and the picture clears some, but more are coming too fast.
'Let's get this straight. I'm your mother. I had you. You came right from here.' She pulls up her denim skirt and pats the flat dark under her pantyhose, between her legs. I look away, out the window, toward the blurry factory.
'No, you pay me mind.' She reaches out and turns my face toward her. Before I can scream she says quickly, 'Your momma and daddy want you to hear me. If you want to go home to them, you listen.' I swallow my scream and nod.
'You gonna listen?'
'I go home!'
'You gonna listen?' She reaches under my chin, raising my face to hers. I nod and then shake my head free of her hand. I hiccup hard, and chocolate ice cream runs down my mouth and shirt.
'Jesus ...' She grabs an end of my shirt and wipes at my face, hard, not the soft dabs my momma does, even as I wriggle my face away from her. I don't try to pull away, though.
As she rubs my face, pressing my lips into my teeth, she says, 'I had you when I was just fourteen years old, can't say I wanted you; can't say I didn't do rabbits' tricks to try and get rid of you.' She spits on my chin and wipes hard, ignoring my band-aid.
'If my father'd let me, you'd long been flushed down some toilet. You understand?' I nod, even though I don't. I sob quietly, my lips sucking in.
'They took you from me ... goddamn social worker cunts.' She lets my face go and looks past me to the factory. 'Now I'm eighteen now ...' She looks at me, nods. 'I got you back.' She pats my head. 'See, you're mine.'
'Take me home,' I whisper.
'Do you hear what I'm saying to you?' she yells. She reaches down into her denim bag and pulls out another cigarette. I turn toward my window.
'Take me home,' I say louder.
'They don't want you.' She flicks her lighter.
'Take me home!' I yell, and hit the glass.
'You goddamn, spoilt brat ... ' She grabs my hand and twists me toward her. 'Don't make me whoop you!'
I gasp hard, and a little more chocolate ice cream dribbles out. She jerks my arms above my head, puffs on her cigarette, and exhales, her head shaking the smoke out like a released balloon.
'They said they got rid of you 'cause you're bad ... you understand?'
I try to pull my arms down, my face red and swollen. She leans closer, into my ear. 'Your foster par ... your momma and daddy ...' She grabs my cheeks with her other hand and turns my face to her, the cigarette hanging from her lips.
'They ... shit!' The cigarette drops. 'Shit!' She lets go of me. 'See what you made me do?' She leans down to retrieve the lit cigarette, and I jump over to the door, pushing and pulling at the handle.
'Momma and Daddy never showed you how to unlock a goddamn car door?' She laughs behind me. 'You wanna go home? ... Fine, I'll take you, I'll take you back.'
The keys jingle in the ignition, and the brake rips again. The car rumbles beneath us. I let go of the door handle.
'Go—go home,' I sputter.
'Yeah, go fucking home!' She rolls down her window and flicks her cigarette out.
She pulls back out onto the tarmac, drives past the factory and the dirty, broken houses, one of which is hers.
I sit back in my seat, heaving, wiping chocolate drool off my mouth.
'I was just trying to help you,' she says quietly.
I look out at the abandoned shacks overrun with grass and vines, like a museum exhibit of another world.
'My guess is they'll just call the police when I bring you back.'
We pass children with sooty faces playing in a turned-sideways refrigerator.'
'The reason you're with me, you know, is because they don't want you no more.' I turn in my seat, a little toward her. 'They told me, 'member when they called last night?' She adjusts the rearview mirror. 'They said you're a bad boy, and that's why they gave you away. If they loved you so goddamn much, well then, why'd they get rid of you? Answer me that.'
I sniffle and swallow a snot glob.
'They found out how evil you are, those police ... they were ready to do you in. If I hadn't've begged them, those cops would've taken out their guns and shot you through.' She adjusts her mirror again, then runs her finger under her eyes, wiping off the black smears.
'I got ice cream,' I whisper.
'Just because I convinced them not to kill you.' She looks over at me. 'If I hadn't taken you from your foster, your momma and daddy, where you think you'd be?'
I choke on a hiccup. She pats my back a little too hard.
'They didn't try to stop the social worker from taking you away, now, did they?' she asks me softly. I look out at the mountains rising and falling into each other, little gray wood shacks lodged between them like food caught between teeth. They hadn't tried to stop the social worker from taking me. They'd even turned away fast from the car once I was in it. As I screamed and banged on the back windshield for them, I saw my daddy hug my momma with both arms, her head on his chest, and they walked back toward the house, they didn't turn around.
'How many times did you go cryin' and throwing tantrums like a spoilt baby if you didn't get your way, huh?'
I look up at the clouds, too gray and weighted to be floating over the mountain peaks. 'Be a good boy and don't cry for Momma,' she had said lots of times. I usually ended up crying, though.
Excerpted from THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS by J.T. LeRoy. Copyright © 2001 by J.T. LeRoy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things||44|
|Foolishness Is Bound in the Heart of a Child||56|
|Viva Las Vegas||201|
Posted November 29, 2006
Posted February 14, 2006
Posted April 29, 2004
The fact is JT's followup to Sarah is a very disparaging read. I gave the book to my therapist, and he gave it back, it's sadness overwhelming. Nevertheless, this book is beautiful, and shows promise. Keep in mind that he is only 24 years old, and probably wants nothing to do with Oprah Winfrey. I thought that these last few years in America bred irony into us all.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2004
this book, although heavy in its subject matter, is truly a must read. Leroy finds a way to inject humor into disturbing issues such as child abuse, neglect, and sexual molestation. the author is successful at creating a choatic emotional ride: one minute you're giggling, and the next you're not sure whether to scream in anger or giggle some more. but then again, that's what a good book is all about. take a risk, read this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2003
Let me first say that I do not frequently read for pleasure. But about two years ago I was turned on to this book by a good friend of mine. This book just blew me away. It reaches deep down into your soul and pulls out the most gutwrenching,heartbreaking emotions you could ever feel for another person. The compassion, fear, and hatred you feel for the characters when reading this book are so true and real that you wish that you yourself could do something to help this tourtured child. I would recomend this book to anyone who has experience with a history of child abuse or knows someone who does.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2003
I love this book. Unlike the first reviewer, I seem to find it fascinating rather than overly disturbing. Yes, the subject was a severe, but I certainly did not feel the need to go lay down, or whatever it is that the first person said. I highly reccommend this book, and am looking for more like it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2002
This book is graphic, disturbing, and frankly sickening. At one point, I had to stop reading and lie curled on my bed to keep from getting sick. That said, it's believable prose, not kitschy or unnecessarily obscene. I'm of the opinion that anything that can elicit strong emotion is of at least some interest, and you'll definitely care for Jeremiah and hate his mother and the other antagonists by the end of this one. Though certainly not for the easily disturbed, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is a heartwrenching, stomach-turning look into the twisted world of a horribly abused boy surrounded by senseless depravity. LeRoy pulls no punches.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 20, 2001
The style and pace of these stories is exceptioinal. And for about 50 pages, these technical merits carry the readers' interest. But the stories themselves are just an endless littany of increasingly horrific scenes of abuse with no apparent point other than to shock. The liner notes claim that these stories are autobioraphical. If that's true, Mr. Leroy has my deepest sympathy. But that doesn't change the fact that this collection of stories has very little literary merit.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 13, 2010
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Posted April 30, 2011
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Posted November 24, 2008
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Posted February 19, 2011
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