Monday, March 6, 2006

A Million Little Truths

I knew about the controversy surrounding James Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces, before I read the book. When I first heard the allegations that he fabricated parts of his memoir, all I knew about the book was that it had a good title, great cover design, and was shelved prominently at Borders.

So I didn't have the opportunity to feel as betrayed as those who read the book believing that it was 100% true. But there are two other reasons why I don't feel terribly angry by what Frey apparently did.

First, I sympathize. I want to be a writer very much. I can hardly imagine working so hard, pouring so much of myself into a novel, and having it rejected by publisher after publisher. When Frey's agent told him that his book might be more successful packaged as a memoir, rather than as a novel, of course he jumped at the opportunity to sell it.

He should have taken out the bits he added for drama and interest in the novelization. He absolutely should have. But maybe he thought those parts were what made the story as compelling as it is. Of course he was afraid of having it rejected yet again. He was wrong to leave in the fictionalized parts. But I sympathize with how he must have felt.

Second, I think that the lies he chose to tell say as much - or more - about Frey than a strictly truthful version of his story would tell.

Sure, addiction is horrible and messy and ugly and far from glamorous, as Frey tells us in gritty detail. But Frey can't resist the temptation to make himself, his life, his experiences larger than life, less pathetic than they really are.

Frey may have been a skinny white kid from an upper middle class suburban family, but he is such a badass that the biggest, scariest, meanest criminals are all scared of him. He didn't meet an Italian or even a mobster in rehab; he met a mob boss. He didn't meet a lawyer or even a judge; he met a federal judge.

Addicts lie. Addicts can't be trusted. Addicts lie. Frey tells us this repeatedly in his book, and he underlines this fact with the way he chooses to tell his story. He is not cured. He is still an addict; he's just not currently smoking crack.

And The Smoking Gun's coverage of Frey's lies struck me as much more petty and spiteful than a simple recounting of fact and fiction - which would have been more helpful, by the way.

I did find quite a bit of humor in Frey's self-aggrandizing style, including his FTBSITTTD tattoo (F**k The BS It's Time To Throw Down), so I borrowed the tat for a bookmark I created for my bookclub, listing our hosting order in addition to a lovely picture of our suburban mom selves from our Christmas wine bar gathering last December. I called us a Book and Fight Club, which sounds about right.