Before being exposed as a fabrication, Margaret Seltzer's memoir "Love and Consequences" received quite a bit of flattering notice in the Times. Michiko Kakutani wrote a glowing review praising, among other things, Seltzer's "amazing job" at recreating the South Central neighborhood where it turned out she had never lived. Seltzer was also the subject, improbably, of a friendly "Home & Garden" section profile, which consisted mainly of Seltzer telling fabricated stories about her life and lounging around "a four-bedroom 1940s bungalow" whose interior is described in the profile in random asides — a "soft black vinyl chair" here, a "small art table" there. All the more interesting, then, that Seltzer's book was shepherded into print over the course of three years by Penguin Group editor Sarah McGrath, whose father is an active writer for the Times and was, for eight years starting in 1995, the editor of the New York Times Book Review.
As others have noticed, the Times itself noted the connection between Seltzer and Sarah McGrath in its expose on Seltzer, and also disclosed Charles McGrath's current Times job title of "Writer At Large." The paper also said that Sarah McGrath moved Seltzer's contract with her when McGrath jumped from a division of Simon & Schuster to a division of Penguin Group.
The Times did not note Charles McGrath's tenure at the Book Review, where he would have had plenty of time to get to know Kakutani — if the Book Review had much contact with Kakutani at the daily paper, which it did not, at least under his successor.
A Book Review editor, Barry Gewen, said last year he had never met Kakutani in 18 years at the paper. So perhaps McGrath and Kakutani were strangers.
Also, Kakutani's glowing treatment of "Love and Consequences" is not, on its own, evidence of special treatment. She has been described as taking extreme, love-it-or-hate it positions on the books she reviews. And she was likely also dazzled by how well the book stacked up against other autobiographies. Seltzer had the spectacular advantage over her nonfiction competitors of not being limited to faded memories of actual events, and this apparently allowed her to deliver the same sorts of fake thrills that propelled James Frey's fabricated memoir, A Million Little Pieces, on to Oprah Winfrey's TV show and the bestseller lists.
Still, the tight cluster of relationships between Seltzer, her loyal agent Sarah McGrath, Sarah's father Charles and the Times raises the question of whether Setlzer's book received more attention and less skepticism than was warranted. The paper should investigate its own coverage with the same scrutiny now brought to bear on "Love and Consequences."