James Frey Made Me Cry But Not Because He Lied In His Memoir
On Jan. 26 a rich and powerful woman told a former crack head and raging alcoholic that she had ‘felt really duped.’
No, I’m not talking about thanksgiving with the Lohans or Martha Stewart at the DMV.
The woman at hand is none other than Oprah Winfrey and the man who duped her is James Frey (apparently pronounced like french fry), author of ‘A Million Little Pieces,’ which chronicles the affluent Caucasian male’s experience in a midwestern rehabilitation center at the age of 25.
In September 2005, Winfrey chose ‘A Million Little Pieces’ for her monthly book club, stating that the haunting memoir had kept her up at night.
On Jan. 8 of this year, whistle-blowers at http://thesmokinggun.com released a report which factually outlined several points of Frey’s novel that were fabricated.
The two main pieces of fabrication are important but not centerpieces of the novel. The Smoking Gun first found out that Frey had spent almost no time in jail besides being booked for one night after an altercation with the police, when the book states that he not only had spent more time in jail but was awaiting a three-month jail term at the end of rehab which he claimed to serve (not true). The second issue deals with the train-wreck deaths of two girls with whom Frey was friends, which also apparently didn’t happen.
The entire issue has caused a minor media flurry over the book, caused a decrease in sales, divided readers into two camps of supporters or contemners and has (God forbid) upset Oprah.
First and foremost I must say that Frey’s novel is a highly entertaining and emotionally appealing piece of writing, possibly the best I read in 2005. I think everyone should read it and then read The Smoking Gun article afterwards, which should be neither underappreciated nor ignored.
Now to continue, I think that Oprah and all of the other people whining about Frey’s indiscretions need to go to Blockbuster or open their Netflix queue and rent Oliver Stone’s ‘Natural Born Killers.’ There is a great scene where an old Indian dude tells this story to Mickey and Mallory about a guy who raised a rattlesnake and when it grew up it killed the man. Then I think Woody Harrelson trips on some mushrooms and accidentally kills the Indian or something. I don’t really remember, that movie confuses me beyond that part.
What I am trying to say is what do you expect from an ex-crack head? If someone stopped me on the street and told me a crazy story about how they used to be a crack head and they got clean and did all this amazing stuff, I’d take it with a grain of salt. In fact I take every story I hear with a grain of salt, but especially ones that are told by someone who used to deal with his issues by downing a fifth of Jack and puffing some ether.
All this information about fabrication and such just makes me feel better about myself at the end of the day. I can go to sleep at night and think about how I wish I was in better shape, had straight As and hold my own at the club, but then take solace in the fact that James Frey isn’t as good a guy as I thought he was a month ago. Whew, I feel better.
I think the other camp is actually worse, though. The supporters of Frey denounce The Smoking Gun as Us Weekly or National Inquirer fare. These people need a serious reality check. The Smoking Gun deals only with documented facts and wrote this story based on official Ohio police records which stated that Frey spent only one night in jail, when he stated in the book that he had several trips to the big house, one of which lasted for three months. These supporters should own up to the fact that their golden boy Frey is a good writer, but kind of a liar.
The funniest thing about all of this is that not only did Frey spend far less time in jail than he said he did, but that the one of the times he actually did spend in a police station, he did not actually stay in a jail cell despite normal protocol, solely because the author had a plague-like case of the chicken pox, of which there are pictures online and are really gross, and the police officers were afraid of spreading it to other inmates. I’m kind of wondering, why did Frey have chicken pox at age 17? Didn’t his mom send him to the neighbor kid’s house to play when he had it?
I think the most important thing for people to remember about this is that this whole issue is about what every issue ever is about (personal theory, so prolific): money.
Frey shopped his book around to publishers as a novel, which would work just as well. He was turned down at first, until his literary manager presented it as a memoir. With this new marketing opportunity, the book was accepted, published and made a boatload of money.
Kassie Evashevski, Frey’s former literary manager, told Publisher’s Weekly, ‘The response [from the publishing companies] was unanimous. If the book is true, it should be published as a memoir.’
This is the critical error in the logic of a memoir. How can any work related solely from the memory of a single human being about multi-faceted events be considered completely true? There is a reason that after reading ‘A Million’ I considered it less reliable then say ‘Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings’ by Katherine S. Newman, another book I read last year, which has 50 pages of citations and endnotes. But, for the same reason ‘Rampage’ bored me out of my mind.
The very concept of a memoir, specifically that it is the absolute truth, is kind of a sham. It is a way for publishers to get readers to buy a book because something becomes more interesting when it is perceived as something that really happened.
I loved ‘A Million Little Pieces’ and I think the book becomes more interesting and multifaceted now that I know the main character might also be a plagiarist in addition to a former drug addict. I probably would not have enjoyed the book any less if I considered it a novel. I would, however, have enjoyed it less if it was what I now know to be the absolute truth, because it would have been less interesting and dramatic.
The bottom line for me is that Frey lied about a part in the book where the only person who understood him was killed by a train and as a result I cried for the first time in a decade. Would I have cried if I knew it wasn’t true? Probably. Am I embarrassed that I cried over an ex-crack head’s whining and not during ‘Schindler’s List’? A little. Do I appreciate Frey reminding me that I am human with real emotions, all intentions aside? Yes I do, James Frey. Yes I do.