H.L. Mencken once wrote that President Warren G. Harding’s writing was so bad that “a sort of grandeur creeps into it.” Such is the scale of the untruth of My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize: The Fabricated Memoirs Of Jeff Martin. Not for Martin are the gentle embroideries of polite society; he prefers the bold lie, going the full Jayson Blair on his life and damn the consequences.
Too short to incorporate both balder and dash, Martin’s book still manages to pack in an impressive array of faux accomplishments, beginning with those which would seem to defy time and the capabilities of an infant. As a toddler novelist, Martin rubs elbows with Ronald Reagan, befriends Paul McCartney, and gets ruined by Black Monday, all before age 10; he later tears up Nirvana’s contract with Sub Pop and writes possibly the only Roberto Bolaño joke in existence. Martin’s body of work has also made him infamous, but with a near-miss on blame in every case; he rolls on stolidly between failures, such as the Michael Dukakis photo op he is alleged to have masterminded. In the process, he mirrors the man quoted on the cover, exposed fabricator James Frey; Martin is so thorough that even the note about the font is complete hooey.
My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize hangs on a slip of a premise, a mere sandbag against the tide of memoirs that have been, if not made up from whole cloth, at least festooned with patches. (An alarm goes off somewhere any time a memoirist refers to “characters” being “condensed.”) But its brief blips of parody, from a conference call with David Lynch to an “anonymous source” on a network anchor’s job, highlight the shavings of lies carved off each day, from the falsehoods of politeness to the professional blunderbuss of the politician. Each of these is more damaging than Martin claiming he was the famous man in front of a tank at Tiananmen Square. And there’s a seed of truth in this garden of lush lies: The incidental mention of a woman who later becomes his wife is so drawn back that is indicates at least one thing is too real to be included in any other fashion. It’s a fitting tribute in a sea of honest dishonesty.