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.

4 comments:

  1. I've been meaning to respond to your e-mail about this Sarahlynn, so I'm glad to see this post....

    I agree 98.9% with you - but I did feel a bit "put off" by the lies, more so after I saw his appearance on Oprah and, in my opinion, how poorly he handled himself in that situation (I'm not going to go into my thoughts on how Oprah dealt with it now).

    At one point near the end of the program, he comments to Oprah that he hopes there is a gun waiting backstage for him. Some people might have noted this statement as extreme, desperate or pathetic - some measure of how he must feel so badly for the way this has gone. I found it to be incredibly selfish - like most addicts, regardless of what happens, he makes it all about him.

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  2. Sorry...forgot to add - I did like the book although his writing style took awhile to grow on me and I'm not so sure it would fit another story (i.e. - one not about addiction).

    Cecily, of "And I Wasted All That Birth Control" is a recovering addict and alcoholic who has been sober now for ten years - she suggested some things in Frey's book were false before the claims even came out. She concurs that the lies in the book, particularly those made in an effort to make Frey appear bigger and badder, are indicative of an addict but maintains how wrong it was of him to mislead the readers, particularly those who were addicts, too and used the book as a means of inspiration.

    After so many fabricated details came out, I kept waiting for someone to ask Frey, "Okay, we know you did drugs and that you really were in rehab but is the extent of your drug use really true....were you really 'nearly dead'?" Like most of his lies, I think this was exaggerated to make him appear tougher and stronger than he actually was/is.

    I agree with Cecily, though - I hope he gets the help he needs.

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  3. I didn't see that Oprah, but I agree with you about the selfishness.

    I heard the suggestion that Frey was medicated for anxiety while he was on Oprah to face the music. I've also heard the suggestion that Frey was coaxed by his publisher or lawyer to respond evasively rather than owning up to what he did.

    I don't know if either of those are true, but placing responsibility on drugs or bad advice would be explanations for his behavior, not excuses. In the end, he's still to responsible.

    I like much of what he wrote in the author's letter now published on the book's Random House site (link in my post above) and I wish that:
    a) he'd owned up sooner, and
    b) he'd drop the "it's from my memories" bit when it's obvious that many of the fabrications are *not* due to faulty memories.

    This is an interesting response from another addict: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-woods/james-frey-is-still-full-_b_14586.html

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  4. I just saw your second comment.

    Re: the writing style, I found the lack of punctuation and erratic capitalization annoying, especially toward the end when he was sober. It made more sense at the beginning, when he was utterly f*cked up.

    In the book, all the counselors tell Frey that the 12 steps are necessary. Lots of people think that they're tough enough to kick addiciton on their own, but they always relapse that way. Frey sets out to prove them wrong. I hope that his badass tough facade doesn't hurt or mislead others struggling with addiction.

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