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?