Trade one lie for another

Posted in Reviews at 23:02 by RjZ

In my review of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces I revealed that I was skeptical of the veracity of his memoir. I wrote that “I’m not sure it’s great writing and I often wonder about the details of the story, but that’s not what interests me about the book.” Good call.

The Smoking Gun can’t seem to corroborate Frey’s description of his criminal arrest in Ohio. It looks like Mr. Frey may have exaggerated the facts in a convoluted version of self-aggrandization. In this case, Mr. Frey’s achievement of recovering, essentially all on his own, from his previous life and his mantra “I am an Alcoholic and I am a drug Addict and I am a Criminal” is certainly minimized if he really wasn’t much of a drug addict and definitely not a “Criminal” with a capital C.

How important is it that this memoir is quite possibly a work of fiction? It does matter because because what makes the book a good read is the excruciating idea that this isn’t a work a fiction. One imagines the reader exclaiming ‘O my, this really happened!’ If he didn’t actually overcome significant obstacles on his road to recovery then even my observations about the book are weakened (and I wondered about the details of the book before the Smoking Gun pointed out the problem.) Fortunately, the most important details of Frey’s life are really his addictions and, so far, these haven’t been called into question.

Most readers will be content that the real value of this book or any is what it made them think and feel while reading it regardless of how it got there. I too am satisfied that what I got from the book and posted about here is still legitimate and interesting, but I am also confident that this book, as a work of fiction would never have been published. It simply doesn’t carry the same weight. As it stands, it’s a harrowing tale of what human beings can do in the face of adversary, self-created and self cured. As a work of fiction, it’s…whiny. All the more so when one considers just how embarrassingly macho Frey describes himself to be. I didn’t like that part of the book when I read it but considered it a peccadillo, not worth repeating. Perhaps the good news is that Frey’s probably a nice guy–the macho nonsense might well be fiction too.

Meanwhile. My postings are all non-fiction. So far. Really. Come on, leave me alone. The blog would be worth reading either way. Wouldn’t it?


  1. Penelope said,

    January 17, 2006 at 20:30

    Don’t worry, R.J. I’ll never tell your other fans that you were really born in Boulder, and have never traveled more than 100 miles from your home. I’m just impressed that you can come up with such detailed stories. (Fellow readers who don’t know me, I’m kidding.)

    In spite of what you and Oprah Winfrey say in Frey’s defense, I, for one, think that the main point of the book is completely lost if it is a work of fiction. This book is a bestseller because it inspires people. The message is, “Look how much hardship a person can overcome! Look how deep a hole a person can dig himself out of, all under his own power!” As non-fiction, it’s inspirational because it shows that a great comeback like this really can be done, and if that can be done, what problem could the reader possibly have that he or she can’t overcome, too?

    Well, now it’s not necessarily possible to come back from all of that after all. Frey’s method’s may not actually work, or may not work for a severely messed up person. When his credibility is brought into question, this book suddenly has a lot less sway on any reader’s real life. It’s like knowing that Harry Potter can fly on a magical broomstick: Harry doesn’t exist, and the Nimbus 2000 doesn’t, either, so this doesn’t help me believe that I can fly. Now, if a real person with an ordinary broom could fly, and his book told me how to do it, that would be inspiring!

  2. Traveling Hypothesis » Dramatic license or fraud? said,

    March 19, 2012 at 13:58

    [...] monologue on the air. It’s not the first time I’ve written about stretching the truth. James Frey’s million little lies caught my eye even before he was outed. For my part, if, sometimes, it takes me a while to write [...]

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