It would’ve been cool to read America’s favorite lot lizard retool E.M. Forster, but Harold’s End is actually JT LeRoy’s expansion of a tale published in McSweeney’s in 2002, now accompanied by Cherry Hood’s quaint kids-and-animals watercolors and bookended by the one/two foreword/afterword punch of Dave Eggers and Michael Ray. Eggers places LeRoy with Denis Johnson and Thom Jones, as a writer with the ability to change the “profane” and “miserable” into something “exquisite,” but JT Leroy is more S.E. Hinton, who at 16 scribbled a similarly grubby cast in The Outsiders and transformed their jimmy-legged wrangling into romantic orphan poetry.
Beneath LeRoy’s carefully sculpted persona, this raccoon-penis peddler can write. Not as viscerally charged as The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Harold’s End is the muted tale of a young street hustler who hangs with a posse of pet lovers until he bunks in the Castro with Larry, a sympathetic-enough trust-funder who insinuates himself in the ‘hood by passing out clean needles and treats for the kids (sugar donuts) and their pets (mealworms) prior to nervously unveiling his messy kink. Before the shit hits the black painter’s tarps and a crash pad is squandered, Larry gives our hero snow-white heroin and a baby snail the boy names Harold, a little something to nurture besides elliptical memories of a dysfunctional mother.
LeRoy nails addled adolescence, but here the bloody no-tell motel violence of the precipitous finale leaves a too triumphant after-school-special taste. When the boy frantically dumpster-dives for his misplaced mollusk—that “pedigree mothafucker, from France!”—amid broken bottles, used condoms, and rotten salad mix, he’s on a garbage-strewn path to a Hollywood ending.