News of the latest case of a fabricating memoirist sent me to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
I wanted to see if Margaret Seltzer, a k a Margaret B. Jones, the 33-year-old author of Love and Consequences, fits the description of someone with “anti-social personality disorder,” more commonly known as a sociopath.
Not being a mental health professional, and never having met Margaret Seltzer, I am hardly qualified to say that the young lady is a sociopath.
And far be it from me–especially in this integrity-challenged era of insta-pundits, citizen journalists, and reality show mavens turned lifestyle experts–to say that the editors at Riverhead Books are the innocent victims of a glib, manipulative, remorseless, lying sociopath in the body of Margaret Seltzer.
Yet it is worth considering some of that DSM description of anti-social, or sociopathic behavior, in the context of this situation. Key traits of such individuals include:
• Glibness and superficial charm.
• Manipulative and conning.
• Grandiose sense of self.
Feels entitled to certain things as their right.
• Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility.
Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution;
changes life story readily.
Certainly, that final characteristic–“changes life story readily”–appears to apply to Seltzer/Jones, a young woman who managed to fool a lot of smart, important people: her book editor, Sarah McGrath at Riverhead, publisher of Love and Consequences; her agent; a former writing teacher; the publicity folks at Riverhead; and some big-league journalists.
The memoir–a hard-luck story of growing up in a “gang family” in South Central Los Angeles–received a wet-kiss review February 26 from New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, and from other book critics as well. Seltzer/Jones sold the “memoir” as a thrill-a-minute story of shooting, drug dealing, and gang-bangin’ as lived by a half-white, half-Native American girl who was abandoned shortly after birth and taken in at age 8-and-a-half by a generous black South Central woman known as “Big Mom.”
But after the Times published a bittersweet profile of Seltzer/Jones in its Home and Garden section February 28, the truth came out. Cyndi Hoffman phoned Riverhead, identified herself as the sister of “Margaret B. Jones” and disclosed that Jones was really Margaret “Peggy” Seltzer, the daughter of a well-to-do-family in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks.