fraudIf you’re the sort of person who secretly reads the end of a novel first, then Emily Lockhart’s new book Genuine Fraud was written with you in mind because it begins with Chapter 18 and works its way to Chapter 1.

Lockhart writes about two young women: Imogen Sokoloff and Jule West Williams, two orphans and school friends who defy social conventions but have histories that bind them.  Imogen, a New York City, private-school blond, is an open-minded, confident, and desirable friend and hostess who draws people in with her power, money, enthusiasm, and independence.  She refuses to strive for greatness or to work toward other people’s definitions of success, preferring instead to make a home for herself that she defines on her own terms.  Although she accepts her adopted Jewish parents’ money, she will not allow them to control her identity, an identity that she works to reinvent.

Traumatized by her parents’ deaths when she was eight years old, Jule hangs her identity on an invented past, a hero-origin story.  A self-created person with a mysterious history, Jule makes choices to feel stronger and more powerful.  Believing that super heroes like Wolverine, Jason Bourne, or James Bond don’t wish for gingerbread, presents and peppermints, Jule doesn’t mope about them either but follows her action-hero path, power on.  In her determination to live life in the extreme and to prove that small, cute women are not harmless, Jule joins a gym to develop her strength and agility, watches YouTube videos to learn the “million things you won’t learn in college” (5), and acts out different versions of herself.

The real mystery of Lockhart’s novel is in unravelling the identities of these two young women who have reinvented themselves to the point where they are genuine frauds, unaware of who they truly are.  The reader, too, may struggle to define them as one person or as two or more.  Is Imogen Sokoloff a spoiled, rich girl unaware of her own privilege or a fiercely independent young woman who likes becoming someone else and who struggles to wrest herself from men who want to dominate her and women who want her exclusive attention?  Is Jule a remarkable intellect and an athlete with a fierce survival instinct seeking revenge; a criminally violent psychopath who justifies her ruthless brutality as a day’s work; or a vulnerable victim of her impoverished past?  Is she an insecure woman who yearns for a place in the spotlight as a physically powerful woman with armor that makes her difficult to hurt or an individual mangled by her past, who adapts and learns codes of behavior to feel wanted and loved? Or is Imogen, Jule or Jule, Imogen?

As readers unravel these tangled threads of character, they realize that Lockhart’s book is an important study of human identity, of how we often manufacture ourselves to please others and of how we are affected by the sensation of being someone else.  Lockhart also tackles what it means to adapt and encourages readers to think about whether these adaptations are social necessities, as rules for “being a human in society” (63), or whether adapting may actually be a form of self-suicide, of being fake or untrue to one’s core being.  The book essentially interrogates whether there is a true self or “only a series of selves presented for different contexts” (24).

Finally, Lockhart addresses the essential human desire to feel loved, wanted, or accepted.  She not only explores the basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others but examines the caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships that form healthy human behaviors.   So, besides being a book about murder, suicide, and mystery, Genuine Fraud is a study of psychology and the paradoxes of being human.  Lockhart points out that while we subjugate ourselves to others by loving, sharing, and cooperating with them, we also seek the freedom to make our own choices and the power that comes with achievement and being recognized and respected.  Because of these conflicting truths, we can feel worthless and scared at the same time that we feel brave and talented.  Lockhart enables readers to see that we can despise and admire someone at the same time and that sometimes we have to do something extreme to become the person we’re becoming.

  • Posted by Donna

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