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March 16, 2009

On Saturday’s flinging post, I linked to an article about a boy named Jake Myerson whose mother has published a book about his drug use and family history.

Of course, that hardly scratches the surface of this story, and I thought I might explore it further.

Jake Myerson is the son of Julie Myerson, a novelist, columnist and literary critic. In September of this year, her latest work, titled THE LOST CHILD, will be released in the UK and the US, though it has already been condemned by several critics on both sides of the pond.

While THE LOST CHILD is technically a novel, Myerson has admitted that it is more memoir than fiction, and describes the events surrounding her decision to kick her 17-year-old son out of her home for smoking cannabis.

It has also been discovered that Myerson was the author of a Guardian column titled “Living with Teenagers”, during which she recounts many of the same stories. When she admitted that she was the author of that column, all of the articles were pulled from the Internet to protect her privacy and that of her family.

Does anyone else see any inconsistencies here?

Lots of people write memoirs, and many of those shine spotlights on less-than-stellar parts of their lives, sometimes bringing loved ones down with themselves. However, this is a slightly different situation because Myerson is selling out her kid.

After the MILLION LITTLE PIECES controversy, it is no surprise that THE LOST CHILD is classified as fiction. Jake Myerson has called the novel “obscene” and “untrue”, stating that his mother stretched facts and made some up entirely to further her career. According to him, the idea that he would share pot with his younger siblings is abominable.

Of course, he has no case for libel because the book is not marketed as non-fiction.

On the one hand, I support any author’s right to draw from his or her own experiences to inspire and guide. Which of us hasn’t done it at some point in time? We take an experience, alter the details, change a few circumstances, and now it is fodder for a fiction story.

However, to write something like this and then state publicly that it is actually a true story about one’s child seems unforgivable.

I can’t help think that I did a lot of stupid things growing up, things I wish my parents could forget and things I would gladly scrub from my own mind. If my mother were to publish a story about my teenage years, I would probably share Jake Myerson’s reaction.

So what do you think? Is it acceptable to go this far in blurring fiction with reality? And should Julie Myerson be ridiculed for her honesty—or celebrated?

Also, is your opinion different because she is famous? Bloggers write about their private and family lives on a daily basis, but Julie Myerson is already in the public eye. Should that make a difference?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2009 12:28 pm

    I would have to question her motives. If she wrote it to help others who are struggling with the same situation and it does that in some way, then I guess it’s ok. If she’s simply capitalizing on her son’s transgressions for her own glory then it’s despicable. This culture we live in where everyone feels the need to air their dirty laundry publicly has lead to a lot of really exploitative behavior. Like those horrid “funniest home videos” where parents embarrass and mortify their own children in a bid for 15 minutes of fame, if she’s just using it to make a buck I feel sorry for her son. Frankly I think kicking out a legal minor for smoking pot says more about her inability to parent effectively. My kids put me through the wringer, but I would have never thrown them out of the house and forced them to fend for themselves before they’d even graduated high school.

  2. Sam Tamlyn permalink*
    March 16, 2009 1:37 pm

    Well said. My parents would never have thought to do anything like that, and I feel the same way. There are certainly options other than putting a child on the streets, and I have a feeling she’s done this more for monetary gain. Plus, the kid asked her not to publish it, and she did it anyway. Kind of disturbing.

  3. March 19, 2009 3:52 am

    I clicked the link to the interview which you posted (was surprised the article was as long and thorough (?) as it was). As the mother of a young adult son, I felt uneasy and sad for all of them.

    My guess is truth is te middle; i.e. Mom has a case to make, but son’s claim that parents are a bit naive or ‘harsh’ also rings true. Such a terrible situation for everyone, including the two siblings.

    I can’t see ever, ever publishing something so hurtful to my own child. But I haven’t walked in her shoes …

    Tough, tough situation.

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  4. May 15, 2009 4:09 pm

    It is hard but, whatever the personal distress experienced by the family (and it’s clear there was intense and sustained distress), I’d like to proffer a comment from a legal perspective. I’m not castigating Ms Myerson directly, as I do feel that her publishers carried a very heavy legal responsibility, and we have yet to hear how Bloomsbury went about discharging that. They have been silent on this topic! Which, I feel, speaks for itself.

    No sensible publisher would agree to muck-raking like this without getting a signed disclaimer/ release/ authorization from the youthful subject of this ‘biography’. I am afraid that, if Bloomsbury did not do so, then they have brought trouble upon themselves.

    As a troubled teen eking out a precarious existence, having been (largely) rejected by his parents, I would guess that young Myerson was extremely vulnerable. I feel that a judge would feel most unhappy about the suggestion that, having been presented with the manuscript, he gave it his informed consent. What evidence is there of this?

    Jake says he consulted a lawyer, who told him there was nothing much he could do. This was obviously wrong, but how was Jake to know? Having been given (as it appears) duff advice, it would seem he acquiesced – not the same as consent. If someone tells you they don’t approve of what you’ve done, what clearer message of protest could they give? Short of sending a solicitor’s letter to say: “it’s all at your own risk – all my rights are reserved”.

    We live in interesting times.

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