I've said it before and I'll say it again, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces is a wonderful fictionalized memoir.
True confessions: I bought the book because the cover looked interesting -- not because Oprah recommended it. In fact, I usually avoid Oprah's Book Club suggestions, because they are by-and-large overwhelmingly depresssing or, oddly enough, even more overwhelmingly depressing.
Anyway, I read the book before James Frye appeared on the Oprah show. I've known a few people who've gone through rehab -- specifically Hazelden -- and his description of the program didn't ring entirely true. In addition, I've been on enough airplanes to question whether or not anyone in the condition he described himself to be in would be allowed to board a commercial flight in anything less than a straight jacket... and with a keeper.
Then I watched the Oprah segment with his interview. After having read the book, I found it quite odd that Mr. Frey does not appear to have what should be a large and noticeable scar on either cheek... even though the book clearly states that he had a huge hole in his cheek -- that had been there for days before being treated. Do you see one? I sure don't.
But I still really loved the book for both its writing style and its message. You see, at that point, I assumed that Frey had done what a lot of storytellers do -- embellished his story for visceral impact. I also assumed that it was a story, not completely factual. Beautifully written, but a story.
So I read it again. In my second read-through, the whole Lily story line sounded less real to me, as it was dreamier and less likely than most bodice-rippers I've read. The male friendships, on the other hand, rang entirely true. If you write what you know, well... this led me to believe more than ever that, while terrific prose, the book was more fiction than true memoir.
At the point when The Smoking Gun came out with the Frey story, I really wondered what the big deal was. Was it really the fact that Frey embellished, or was it that Oprah was embarrassed/betrayed?
If this is to be believed, Oprah knew or should have known that there were problems with Frey's veracity long before she ever chose to interview him and give him a wider audience. I predict that at least one head is going to roll at Harpo Studios, if it hasn't already happened.
I have another question, though. How come no one is picking on James' mother, who sat in the audience and nodded approvingly through his entire first interview with Oprah? Surely Mom knew her kid was... um... gilding the lily, didn't she? After all, if AMLP is to be believed, Mom and Dad actually met Lily.
Finally, I also read and enjoyed My Friend Leonard, and I did so before the whole TSG brouhaha blew up. But I was also convinced the writing in MFL was an even more fictionalized memoir.
Look, if you want a ripping good read that you will have a hard time putting down, read AMLP. If you want the God's honest truth, though, don't expect it any more from AMLP than you could from Frey's own character in the book.
Selfish. No impulse control. Angry. Self-destructive.
Does anyone else see a pattern here?
That, in the end, may be the biggest message of all from James Frey -- just because you survive rehab doesn't make you the citizen of the year.
And speaking of a million little pieces... what a shame!