Working in publishing, one sees as fair amount of imitation, both good and bad. Authors model their own work after the books they love, or those that they feel have sold well in the past. It sometimes leads to disaster, but often it is a pleasure to read and engage with, if not for the content than at least for the intention. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Never have I seen this made more abundantly clear than in Lee Israel’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a short but sweet memoir about one woman’s days as a forger of literary letters.
It’s a story that reads like any other crime narrative. A person is down on their luck, trying to make ends meet, and picks up a questionable hobby that gets them on the wrong side of the law. But, here’s what makes Can You Ever Forgive Me? turn from criminal to almost comedic: Israel was a New York Times bestselling biographer, on contract with a major publishing house and in possession of serious respect for historical accuracy. For about a year and a half in the 1990s, she created hundreds of reproduced and fabricated celebrity letters that were sold and traded by major dealers across the country, going for thousands of dollars.