Fakers

Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders

For anyone who has ever lied—or been lied to—true-life tales about faking, from Clifford Irving to Stephen Glass, by an award-winning writer

“Fakers are believed—and, at least for a time, celebrated—because they each promise us, screen-gazing and experience-starved, something real and authentic, a view, however fleeting, of a great thing rarely glimpsed.” —from Fakers

Why would two poets invent a fake writer, complete with a fake oeuvre and compelling life story, and then submit their fabrication to a literary magazine? Why might a biographer claim to have interviewed Howard Hughes and collaborated on the reclusive billionaire’s autobiography despite never having met him? Why would a journalist concoct an eight-year-old junkie and then write an article about him, later winning a Pulitzer Prize for her invention? Why might memoirists pretend to be a Holocaust survivor, a gang member, and a recovered addict with a prison record? And why do we believe such wild fictions that masquerade as the truth? Why are we forever getting fooled by frauds?

Paul Maliszewski explores the teeming varieties of fakery, from its historical roots in satire and con artistry to its current boom, starring James Frey and his false memories of drug-addled dissolution and the author formerly known as JT LeRoy with his fake rural tough talk. Journeying into the heart of our fake world, Maliszewski tells tales of the New York Sun’s 1835 moon hoax as well as his own satiric contributions to a newspaper—pieces written, unbeknownst to its editor, while the author worked there as a reporter. For anyone who has ever lied or been lied to, Fakers tells us much about what we believe and why we still get conned.

The essays in Fakers explore:

  • Jayson Blair’s faked New York Times stories, about Jessica Lynch and much else
  • Early American con artists
  • Oscar Hartzell and the longrunning Drake’s fortune scam
  • Internet hoaxes about man-eating bears
  • Han van Meegeren’s forged Vermeers
  • Clifford Irving’s fake autobiography of Howard Hughes
  • Michael Chabon’s fictionalized version of his early years
  • Binjamin Wilkomirski’s fabricated Holocaust memoir
  • In-depth interviews with three fakers: journalist Michael Finkel, painter Sandow Birk, and performance artist Joey Skaggs

Praise

“Not only is Fakers beautifully written and fun to read, but it is tremendously useful. It explains clearly and with perfectly chosen examples just what the distinction is between pointed pranks and lazy fabrications, and between satire and malice. And unlike previous efforts on the subject, this one is entirely in favor of the imagination.”
—Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings
“ Here it is, the one true guide to the world of forgery. Paul Maliszewski shows us how to distinguish the masterpieces from the frauds, the inspired fakes from the merely counterfeit, tossing off along the way a few gemlike examples of the former. This is a perfect book for our pompous, authenticity-grubbing times.”
—Thomas Frank, author of The Wrecking Crew and What’s the Matter with Kansas?