A million Little Pieces by James Frey

The first part of this book was believable and engaging. I felt the pain that James felt as he entered rehab, threw up every night, and even had his teeth pulled without anesthesia. Yes, I believed that. There is a certain realm where even in fiction an author can create a believable story that makes one forget it is a story. The mind allows a total submersion into the characters and development of the events. Frey did this, but his style, narration, and character development all crescendoed early and plateaued about two hundred pages in. I’ll go ahead and attribute it to his introduction of Lilly.

Here is my beef. There is a point where you respect a guy for being tough and having street cred, but then when that person starts to peacock and show off how tough they are, it is unbelievable and kind of ridiculous. In Frey’s case, he made himself unbelievable by trying to be too tough and too rebellious. He rebelled against the 12 steps. He rebelled against any form of higher power. He put himself in the most ridiculous asinine place an alcoholic should put himself in: a bar with a drink one inch from his face. That, to me, was ludicrous. Maybe it wasn’t even that final act of defiance, it was that he wouldn’t even tell his brother that he wanted to test himself. Instead, he let his brother believe that he just wanted to have a drink. That careless disregard for others made me lose huge amounts of respect for him.

As I mentioned earlier with Lilly, her introduction saw the downfall of a really good book. The story was/is supposed to be about James’s recovery from addiction. I can totally believe him being with another chick and having them help eachother through that. But Frey makes his love affair with Lilly the main plot of the story for the last half of the book, which is not what his original intent was. On top of that, there ends up being no redeeming quality to having Lilly play such a large role in the story. If he’s going to make up stuff (which he admitted to doing, which I don’t have a problem with) then he should have made up some way to tie in Lilly’s character better. Aristotle described beauty and great works of art as having continuity and completeness. All aspects of a work of art tie into the other. If you ever watch a critically acclaimed movie, you’ll see that every character and event ties into a following character or event. It all builds on itself and ties into the end. That is good art. A million Little Pieces, though interesting, was not a well written book in my opinion.

Also, Frey’s style of narration, which I would describe as a type of stream of consciousness (I don’t think it technically is that but whatever) was very applicable when he originally was coming off of the initial drugs he was on. The chaos of the fragmented sentences, or “the million little pieces” going on inside his head made sense. As he came down over the next few weeks, I could even see him applying the type of narration to times when he became angry or upset. But he seemed to carry on the excessive fragments to times when it wasn’t needed, i.e. when he was out in the back yard with Lilly, or when he was content. Either that or he could have done it a bit more tactfully, as I felt he was well over the top, and instead of coming off as chaotic and tense, it comes of as contrived and unintentionally poetic.

That people can overcome addiction is an admirable message however he does it, though I think most people trying to recover from addiction would be more let down than buoyed up reading this. Where only 16% of addicts go into long term remission from recovery centers, and those are the ones that follow the system, Frey disregards every failsafe meant for him and goes solo. That’s not a good message I don’t think.

Two books I’ve read from Oprah’s book club: 100 Years of Solitude and this (which isn’t a book on her list anymore I don’t think) were both sadly disappointing. I’d say read the second one as it is interesting, but stay the hell away from Solitude.

Lastly, I’d like to address the fact that this memoir is probably mostly, if not partly, fictitious. Does it make the memoir any less powerful as a work of literature? This same question has been posed for works about the Holocaust. Several Jewish writers have written accounts that they originally claimed to be memoirs or first hand events, and then later it was discovered they were not. One writer, Binjamin Wilkomirski, wrote a book entitled Fragments, which was later found to be untrue. He said that he wrote it to not be totally factual, but as a way to embody the pain he felt from the Holocaust, though he never experienced it. Some Jewish leaders have hailed works like this as just as powerful as real accounts. Yet, like Frey, there are sometimes great public fallout from less than truthful writers.

Postmodernists would say that since the author’s opinion doesn’t matter, we can take a piece of literature for what it is: a piece of literature. There are not hidden intentions that we must uncover through its reading. Whatever is discovered is what we think matters, and that is all that matters. Yet maybe an author’s intentions or personality taints their work. Paul H. Dunn, a “fired” general authority, told world war II stories over the pulpit as a Seventy that were heartfelt and extremely entertaining, but then they were proven to be totally fabricated. Could you feel the spirit in a story like this, even though it was totally false?

Or, we’ve had this conversation, does Michael Jordan’s promiscuity taint his status as a sports icon? Does Michael Jackson’s boy loving taint his music? Does Bill Clinton’s dishonesty taint his presidency? They all still did great things from a world standpoint, so do we just take what they did at face value and forget the rest of them?

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6 thoughts on “A million Little Pieces by James Frey

  1. Kate says:

    I get what you mean about the Lilly thing. She didn’t bring a lot to the story yet she was a huge part of it. Turns out Lilly isn’t even real.I for one happened to be reading this book AS it all came out that is was totally fake. It’s one thing to read it knowing that it’s all fake, but after being roped into the marketing of this being a real, true to life story, it is a real let down. The things that go through your mind while you’re reading a book imagining him, that person, going through that stuff are way different when you can say, oh ok- that’s some tough stuff, but at least it’s not real.For me it does change the literature to know that it is not real- because he INTENDED for people to think it was real AS he was writing it. Think about how much thought he had to put into actually trying to deceive the public, and think about how much more substance we could have gotten from a true-to-life account. Oprah asked the right question while interviewing him, and that is: Ok, so it is a work of literature which can stand on its own. Then why the hell didn’t you just call it FICTION?!?! Not only do I know that it is 90% false from his interview on Oprah, but Daphne went to college with the dude and also knew him after they graduated, and he was pretty much just a regular druggie just like any of their partying friends… nothing intense like he describes. Also, Alexis, daughter of Nelson Doubleday of Doubleday publishing, told me why he didn’t just call it fiction…Because he had pimped his story several times to several publishers, and they turned him down. The book is not good enough as a work of fiction. So he revamped it and sold it as a memoir.It seems like the “memoir” title is to his benefit when he wants to write with no style or when he wants to disregard rules and be somewhat sloppy in his delivery, but the “memoir” title is then to his disadvantage when the issue of honesty comes into play. I get what you are saying about postmodernism (when are you going to get off of this kick?! it is hard to keep up with:) being the lack of intent, but since I know he had an intent, it really does change the literature. The literature is about a real person, having a real experience, so the reader would imagine it as such and then take away information accordingly. If a true drug-addict says, “it’s just so so painful to quit using because it’s a part of you,” that gives you concrete evidence that that is what it is like for a hard core addict. When a guy who went to rehab for 14 days says the same thing, it becomes not fact but just a cliche sentence someone said. So from what I understand as postmodernism and the lack of intent, still- if it comes from one person who has been proven an expert on a topic it is more true than joe-schmoe saying it. So since literature is judged on many different criteria based on what type it is, a memoir needs to be able to be judged as such- an author’s view of an experience. And his was completely false.Anyway, why you gotta hate on Oprah for no reason Dawg? So you read 2 of hundreds of books on the list… for like 7 years she has listed a book every single month… you don’t think that there might be 1 you don’t like? Also, when you choose to read a book she puts on the list, you need to remember- it’s a book CLUB. Everyone reads the book and then they meet with the AUTHOR and discuss why the book was necessary to read. Many of the conversations she had with García Márquez are very insightful and you begin to see what all the fuss is about with his work. It’s hard to understand at first… and context does matter. Maybe if we were all postmodern and didn’t care about such things… (haha) That’s what the “club” is all about, Ben- explaining that stuff when we’re too dumb to get it ourselves 🙂

  2. Magicman says:

    I will point out that “The Road” is a Oprah book club. There, Kate. Oprah is fairest of them all. All hail O. May there be winfrey beneath your wings:)

  3. Bret says:

    How awful that the Rosenblats lied about their story and that the publishers and movie makers and Oprah didn’t figure it out. So sad.Some Holocaust love stories are true. The NY Times featured a story about the famous comic book artists Stan Lee and Neal Adams and a story they were publicizing.The story is about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt who was a 19 year old art student at Auschwitz. There she was asked by the Jewish head of the children's camp to paint something to cheer them up. Dina painted a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and in the end, Dina's art became the reason for her salvation.Painting the mural for the children caused Dina to be taken in front of Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death. She thought she was going to be gassed, but she bravely stood up to Mengele and he decided to make her his portrait painter, saving herself and her mother from the gas chamber.After the war, Dina applied for a job to be an animator and the person interviewing her turned out to be the man who created Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs for the movie. They fell in love and got married. Show White saved Dina's life twice!

  4. Amber and Che says:

    Ben, I just wanted to say hello and ask how you are doing. I hope everything is ok and that you are doing well. Hope you had a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Oh and I love Oprah! The Book Club is awesome! I agree with Magicman. ALl hail Oprah!

  5. blake says:

    There’s a great line from one of my guilty pleasure TV shows. I’ll refrain from naming names, but one girl says to the Yale Admissions Officer, ‘Don’t be fooled by the ‘Oprah’s Book Club’ sticker on the cover, it’s actually a good book.’ Oprah has a history of picking bad ones…Which makes me angry that now you can’t find a freaking copy of The Road that doesn’t have her name on it. Stop it Oprah!

  6. blake says:

    OMG, I totally left that comment about The Road being in Oprah’s book club before I saw that you had already left a comment about The Road being in Oprah’s book club. PS – The captcha phrase I had to type to get this comment posted was ‘orgasm.’ Bitchin’.

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