James Frey, A Million Little Pieces (New York: Anchor-Random House, 2003), 430pp.
If nothing else, James Frey will test the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. His emotionally raw "memoir" of six weeks in a drug rehab center, along with a second book My Friend Leonard (2005), both still sit atop the New York Times bestseller lists for non-fiction in both hardback and paper. Only time will tell if they stay there. After intense scrutiny, public outcry, a mea culpa on Larry King Live, and then not one but two appearances with America's pastor, Oprah, Frey admitted that not everything in his book is precisely true; some of it is false. He did not spend 87 days in jail, but perhaps three. It's not certain that he had massive dental surgery with no pain killers. Workers in the famous rehab center where he lived complained that many of the scenarios he described could not and did not happen in their facility. Oprah publicly dissed him and retracted her recommendation. Imagine!
I wondered how a person who entered a treatment facility at the age of 23 so close to death after ten years of hard core substance abuse, and so full of self-destructive behaviors, could later recall minute details and write a book almost ten years later. I found Frey's book narcissistic in a manner that elicited the voyeuristic in me the reader. What God-awful thing would happen next to this maniac? As Anne Dillard once observed, it's like watching a car chase scene in a movie; even though you know exactly what will happen it is almost impossible not to watch. Nor is this good literature, but instead stream-of-consciousness blather. I am still trying to figure out this sentence: "Everything I know and I am and I have seen felt done past present past now then before now seen felt done hurt felt focus into a something beyond words beyond beyond beyond and it speaks now and it says" (p. 160). Yes, you read correctly. But I suppose we all love a survivor who beats the odds and lives to write about it, and on that count James Frey is a very fortunate person.