Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

I had never known anything but "up" in my career, had never received even one of those formatted no-thank-you slips that successful writers look back upon with triumphant jocularity. And I regarded with pity and disdain the short-sleeved wage slaves who worked in offices. I had no reason to believe life would get anything but better. I had no experience failing.

I'd grabbed this as a possibility for my Read Harder 2019 challenge 19, a book of nonviolent true crime. I ended up counting Bad Blood for it instead, but given the slender length of this book, decided to give it a try.

Le ugh.

What an unappealing person! I don't know what Lee Israel is like in real life -- she does admit she's hard to be around, especially during this period of her life -- but the story she details here wasn't funny or charming to me. I'm kind of judging the people who told her she had to recount these adventures.


Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel
Simon Schuster, 2018
Copy via public library


When Israel found herself nearly destitute, she began forging letters of 1940s/1950s Hollywood and literary elite. It started with the addition of a fictional post-script but quickly expanded to entirely original missives based on tidbits culled from diaries and other ephemera.

Israel justified it by arguing she needed the money; the "letter writers" were all long deceased; and there was, in her eyes, almost no harm done by her drafting and selling these forgeries. But she escalated to ransacking archives in search of materials for ongoing work and eventually she began stealing real correspondence to sell.

Israel's narrative style is very educated, snobbish, almost, and completely unrepentant. Thin on story; thick on self pity. It was that combination that made this vastly unpleasant. She claims all her stolen items were returned to the appropriate collections and so she doesn't really have anything to feel bad about!

Perhaps the movie will be more fun. Ultimately, this was a bit ole bust for me.

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