The Fabulist by Stephen Glass (Simon & Schuster), 342 pages, $38 cloth. Rating: NN
Not since janet cooke invented an eight-year-old junkie and won the Pulitzer had there been such a scandal in journalism. In 1998, 25-year-old journalist Stephen Glass got caught fabricating stories - a lot of stories, in respectable journals - and the sky fell. He refused all interviews and disappeared, only bobbing up five years later to serve as a point of reference for Jayson Blair.
Now there's a movie, Shattered Glass (see cover story, page 106), that dramatizes his catastrophe, and there's The Fabulist, a novel by Glass himself about a 25-year-old journalist named Stephen Glass who gets caught fabricating stories in respected Washington journals.
The Fabulist is an apology in novel form. The fictional Glass wallows in regret as he loses everything, takes a menial job and eventually, thanks to the intervention of a kindly rabbi, discovers the values of family, religion and community.
Although events in the story tend toward the fanciful, Glass describes Glass's torments with something that seems like honesty.
He also takes several cracks at explaining why he made up all those stories. The answers come in the form of predictable psychobabble - he's a compulsive liar, he wanted to be loved - but the most convincing one is simpler. He was, he says, furious at the drab, indifferent world, which never came close to living up to his Technicolor imaginings of it.
Thing is, his Technicolor imaginings, back in the bad old lying days, were compelling reading, sparkly with enthusiasm and pregnant with the hope that the world might really be as fascinating as he made it seem. You'd expect that, free of the shackles of journalistic integrity, he'd be able to come up with something really, well, fabulous.
Nope. The Fabulist has moments of charming weirdness, but overall the tone is too earnest, too apologetic, too anxious to be liked.
It's like reading a coroner's report: dry, and a little ghoulish.