The prelude to Lee Israel’s memoir reprints four pieces of correspondence, from Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Louise Brooks, and Noël Coward: instant evocations of a long-gone, livelier, and more erudite era. Then, in her first chapter, Israel drops a bomb: Those letters weren’t written by their ostensible authors — they were falsified by her in a desperate moneymaking scheme. That’s when you know you’re in for a sad but spirited true-life tale of deception and not-quite-redemption.
In Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger (available 8/5), Israel recounts her astonishingly rapid descent from best-selling biographer (of Talullah Bankhead and Dorothy Kilgallen) to flat-broke striver, typing counterfeit correspondence in her Upper West Side apartment and selling it to dealers. Whether she’s writing about being banned from the Strand bookstore or stealing authentic letters from university libraries, she does so with honesty and a rapier wit. And in an age of promiscuous apology for the slightest wrongdoing, the fact that Israel never fully apologizes for her crimes is actually part of the charm of her memoir.
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