The Fabulist by Stephen Glass

(Simon & Schuster)

$24

In 1998, Stephen Glass, then a 25-year-old journalist, got busted for having fabricated several stories he'd written for the New Republic, Washington Monthly, and other national magazines. He was fired, disgraced, and above all, publicly touted as the complete fraud most successful 25-year-olds secretly suspect themselves of being.

The interesting part of the meta-scandal ("meta" because its main audience comprised the very people who were reporting it) was that Glass never really came clean. He never became a cheap media star the way Jayson Blair seems poised to do; he didn't speak to reporters or issue press releases. He just endured the news cycle and faded into the archives of the pop culture footnote industry. While the scathing editorials went on about journalistic ethics, Glass' silence left one to wonder if he at least had concocted his fake features for an artful reason. If he was just a lazy fuck-up (as his detractors submitted), that was one thing. But, if he was motivated to take down the industry he had been lucky enough to become part of--if he was fooling the pompous bastards of professional journalism on purpose, intentionally to humiliate them--that would be something else again.

Sadly, as it turns out, he was just a lazy fuck-up. Now, five years later, Glass has broken his silence with The Fabulist, which is billed as a novel, but should really be called a "novel." The book is a cop-out on so many levels it boggles the mind. Even the title is a lie: While the book purports to be a kind of penance, anyone with half a vocabulary can see that Glass' contrition is thwarted by romantic self-obsession.

The Fabulist's narcissism is so dense that the protagonist (whose name also happens to be Stephen Glass--weird!) seems incapable of moral distinction. He loses a job, a girlfriend, and an unearned lifestyle, but never truly acknowledges his own culpability. He knows what he did was "wrong" in some way, but never truly comes clean. His foes seem stuffy and parental, never reasonable. He waxes pious about his actions, but can't mask the pride he takes in remaining a mischievous man-child, trapped in the real world, unable to grow up and tell the truth. Unable. That's the real problem, and the ultimate lie. Glass has had so much time to stew in his own consequences that he now has the temerity to paint himself as the victim here, and worse, to beg sympathy.

Well, guess what: Fuck you. You lied and you're still lying. That makes you a liar, not a fabulist.

Everyone who gets caught in a lie will tell you that the worst humiliation in the world is the look of betrayal on the faces of those who believed you. Having lied and been lied to, I used to think so, too. Then I read The Fabulist. Now I know a far greater embarrass- ment: watching a liar pretend to apologize.

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