Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers―from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump. Bunk traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible, and analyzing how American hoaxes have intersected with race and racism.
Young is a fine poet and his often recursive, textured prose is the perfect delivery for the cyclical nature of literary lies ... Bunk is teeming with these types of insights. As a poet and historian, Young has the particular skill of seeing the unseen. He understands that at the heart of every lie is a good, perhaps great, story. Often the act of story is the act of persuasion, hypnosis, delusion. For better or worse, we love to be lied to if the song sounds good ... Bunk contains a laundry list of charlatans, including Rachel Dolezal, Stephen Glass, James Frey, and Laura Albert. But what is most powerful is Young’s examination of American lies about race ... Young might just have written the most important book this year. Sadly, his book suggests that we might make the same statement for 2018—and the next year, and the next.
...enthralling and essential new study of our collective American love affair with pernicious and intractable moonshine ... Bunk is a sort of book that comes along rarely: the encompassing survey of some vast realm of human activity, encyclopedic but also unapologetically subjective ...a panorama, a rumination and a polemic at once, asks more of the reader. It delivers riches in return ...represents instead a deliberate and even violent confrontation with our determination to locate a susceptibility to bunk elsewhere, whether in the deplorable past or merely in the deplorable other ...his tone at times eccentric or amused...a reader’s feast, a shaggy, generous tome with a slim volume of devastating aphorisms lurking inside; it also shimmers with moments of brief personal testimony, glimpses of Young’s life as a poet, a family man and a black Ivy Leaguer.
...while it can be tempting sometimes to see hoaxes as more or less victimless crimes (certainly Barnum thought they were), Young’s litany instead makes clear that there’s far more at stake here ... But it is not just a history of hoaxes Young is after; Bunk also offers a tour of the 'hoaxing of history': how the hoax threatens to overwrite actual history in favor of its pablum and nonsense ... long, overstuffed with anecdote and argument, a stylistic counterpoint to his spare, minimalist poetry. Its 477 some pages (plus another hundred of notes and sources) may seem daunting to some readers, but it’s a wild, incisive, exhilarating tour through Western culture’s sideshows and dark corners. Like a sideshow barker, Young writes with unbridled enthusiasm, a showman’s conviction, and a carny’s canny, telling a story that at times defies belief.