Thursday, January 12, 2006

Last one, I promise

The New York Times reports on James Frey's appearance on Larry King Live last night where he said that he had embellished "less than 5 percent of [his] book's content."

That's it. I'm done. I've said all I have to say about Mr. Frey, and he will appear no more in my blog. (Unless he writes a really great novel, but I'm not holding my breath.)

Ed. note: all right I lied, but I'm only adding this because I think that Seth Mnookin on Slate got it exactly right. Mnookin seems to agree with my assessment that A Million Little Pieces is really just a poorly written novel that finally got published when it was repackaged as a memoir, but Mnookin's last two paragraphs really explain why Frey's embellishments are a problem.

But why should we care that Frey seems incapable of [owning up to the truth]? Beyond being slightly infuriating—Frey has made millions of dollars off of Pieces—what's the real-world impact of Frey's fakery? Oprah might feel a bit foolish, and presumably at least some of the 3 million-plus people who bought Frey's book will feel ripped off, but that in itself is not cause for any serious outcry.

Unfortunately, because A Million Little Pieces—one of the best-selling books about drug addiction ever written—has been trumpeted as an unflinching, real-life look into the world of a drug addict, it has helped to shape people's notions about drug abuse. Ironically, the very abundance of its clich├ęs has likely helped make it a runaway best seller: People, after all, like having their suspicions confirmed. For nonaddicts, Pieces reinforces the still dangerously prevalent notion that it's easy to spot a drug addict or an alcoholic—they're the ones bleeding from holes in their cheeks or getting beaten down by the police or doing hard time with killers and rapists. For those struggling with their own substance-abuse issues, Pieces sends the message that unless you've reached the depths Frey describes, you don't have anything to worry about—you're a Fraud. And if you do have a problem, you don't need to necessarily get treatment or look to others for support; all you need to do is "hold on." In building up a false bogeyman—the American recovery movement's supposed reliance on the notion of "victimhood"—Frey has set himself up as the one, truth-telling savior. In fact, it seems clear that Frey would have been well-served by taking the kind of unflinchingly honest look at his own life that most recovery programs demand.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I'm waiting for someone to connect the dots and try to fold Frey's fantasies of his own past into the narrative of addiction he's telling -- in other words, that Frey's lies and distortions are all of a piece with being an alcoholic and addict and loser. Then he can be embraced by his supporters for being truly and thoroughly fucked-up, which is something you never really get over.