Anchor Books, Sept. 2005 source: Amazon
I tried reading James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, the chronicle of a hard life and harder recovery from said life. That is, I gave it six pages’ worth of my time. I couldn’t go any further.
I bought a trade paperback copy secondhand a year or so ago, and so well after its debut and after his story was debunked, Frey himself labeled a fraud.
I bought it aware of the controversy but still intrigued, thinking I wanted to know what the hype—that which was original, and what came later—was all about. I expected that at some point the title would wink at me from my TBR bookshelf, and I’d give it a look.
Wikipedia offers the book was “originally sold as a memoir and later marketed as a semi-fictional novel following accusations of literary forgery.”
That wink came last night, but my look didn’t last long.
I feel indignant. Rather pissed off, actually, since — regardless of the amount of work and level of creativity put into the manuscript — Frey’s dishonesty removes all literary integrity. Which to my mind thumbs a nose at all those serious writers (myself included) who stick to an unspoken creed of truth in effort and transparency in craft. That he tried to pass off something largely fabricated as hard truth is unacceptable. He fooled industry insiders and readers alike, made a mockery of others’ efforts. I can’t respect that.
Not to mention, it’s tough to take as “real” from the get-go. Had the controversy never come about, had it originally been sold as fiction — and forget literary license — I’d have never thought the opening scene plausible. I would have been (and was) turned off immediately.
“I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I’m in the back of a plane and there’s no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood.” (pg 1)
We learn Frey has no idea why he’s on the plane, how he arrived at this condition, and where he might be going. Supposedly, according to the flight attendant, a woman not a bit disturbed by his presence or appearance, he was brought onto the plane by “a Doctor [sic] and two men.”
He is hurt and vile? He was in recent contact with a doctor but hasn’t been cleaned or stitched or bandaged? Frey is not perceived as a threat, whether to himself or anyone around? He has no escort, and no police have been contacted, no law enforcement awaits him?
And don’t get me started… The author was allowed to publish conversations with no quote marks or dialogue tags? To capitalize words, many of them over and over again, that have no business being capitalized? For more than 400 pages? I can’t respect that, either. (And my wordy OCD tendencies can’t handle it.)
You almost have to wonder, was this effort a marketing ploy from the beginning, something publishers and editors and PR reps were potentially in on? For shame.
I bought the book used—am glad only the thrift store pocketed proceeds from me. And I will in turn donate this copy. Maybe it’ll find its way to someone who will give it a better look than I did.
Have you read it? What did you think?
*This post title, too, is a fabrication. My complaints aren’t that many. But at least I was upfront about it, yeah?
ETA: I know we writers are supposed to stick together, never openly dismiss another or his/her craft. Burn no bridges, keep the community strong, that sort of thing. And I’m sure Mr. Frey is a lovely person otherwise. If given the opportunity I would sit down with him and pick his brain, without offense. I just cannot stand behind this project.