In The Confidence-Man, Herman Melville has one character ask another whether a story is true. The answer: “Of course not; it is a story I told with the purpose of every story-teller—to amuse.” Or perhaps, as Paul Maliszewski might add, to enhance the teller’s pocketbook or sense of importance. The author begins Fakers with a confession: while working at a business journal, he submitted a string of pseudonymous articles mocking the politics of that very publication. Subsequently, he became an investigator of fakes, and this book collects his writings on the subject. Less interesting than his explication of fakes long past—for example, the New York Sun’s 1835 lunar hoax—is his pursuit of present-day fakers. What should we make of Joey Skaggs, who created Final Curtain, a pseudo-business plan for cemeteries built as theme parks? In an interview with Maliszewski, Skaggs declares that the journalists he hoodwinked were, like most of their breed, perpetually seeking novelty within the realm of the familiar. The author’s most dramatic encounter is with the novelist Michael Chabon, who has repeatedly delivered a lecture that appears to give him a false personal link to the Holocaust. Maliszewski complains that Chabon has “appropriated the Holocaust for the gravity it exerts and then portrayed it in ways an audience would find comfortable and wholly familiar.” For his critique of Chabon, Maliszewski has received scant thanks. He shouldn’t be surprised by this ingratitude. After all, wasn’t the object (as Melville wrote) to amuse?

 

James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.