Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.
In this episode, a pair of conversations that are all about invention, and about the lies that reveal the truth. First, Kevin Young joins Bill Tipper for a conversation about America’s love affair with frauds and his new book Bunk: the Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts and Fake News. Then, the Pulitzer-winning writer Jeffrey Eugenides walks with us through the stories in his new collection Fresh Complaint and reveals the places where fragments of his own experience took on strange new life in his fictional creations.
Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers—from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump. Bunk traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.
Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.
Click here to see all books by Kevin Young.
Jeffrey Eugenides’s bestselling novels have shown him to be an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be American in our times. The stories in “Fresh Complaint” explore equally rich––and intriguing––territory. Ranging from the bitingly reproductive antics of “Baster” to the dreamy, moving account of a young traveler’s search for enlightenment in “Air Mail” (selected by Annie Proulx for Best American Short Stories), this collection presents characters in the midst of personal and national emergencies. We meet a failed poet who, envious of other people’s wealth during the real-estate bubble, becomes an embezzler; a clavichordist whose dreams of art founder under the obligations of marriage and fatherhood; and, in “Fresh Complaint,” a high school student whose wish to escape the strictures of her immigrant family lead her to a drastic decision that upends the life of a middle-aged British physicist. Narratively compelling, beautifully written, and packed with a density of ideas despite their fluid grace, these stories chart the development and maturation of a major American writer.
Click here to see all books by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Author photo of Kevin Young (c) Melanie Dunea.
Author photo of Jeffrey Eugenides (c) Gasper Tringale.