Sunday, January 15, 2006

James Frey: The Ring of Truth Sounds Like a Cash Register

So "A Million Little Pieces", the out standing memoir of the year, is a steaming pile of sub-Bukowski fiction? A fanciful re imagination of an ordinary drug and alcohol tale of woe and recovery? All sizzle, no steak? Sweet.It's been some nasty fun of late to see James Frey twist in the wind as his supposedly non-fiction account of his experience of a drug addict and his eventual recovery is revealed by the Smokinggun.com as being in large part not true. The usual hand wringing about ethics has commenced, but what is notably freaky in this case is the publisher and the book's number one promoter, Oprah, standing by his side, citing something greater and more important than Frey's lazy relationship to the truth. I don't see how anyone who has been caught passing off falsehoods as actual fact can be an inspiration to anyone. He is a fraud, in plain fact, and it's very weaselly of he, Random House and Oprah to stand by the book by claiming that the "essential truths" about the possibility of redemption mitigate the fiction Frey try to pass off as a true story.

Redemption is possible, I believe, but not in the case of an author who just outright lies about his unpleasant experience and how he persevered through grit and gumption a man has to self-mythologize to get across the idea that a person can rise above their problems and be restored to good character and
virtue, one needs to question the sincerity of the storyteller by simply asking why such a basically decent person would need to lie in the first place. One reason, of course, that his melodramatic accounts make for a better story, to which his supporters like Random House and the embarrassed Oprah would assert makes the message more powerful. More likely James Frey needed a sexier tale in order to get published by a major publisher and make A Million Little Pieces easier to hype, and easier to sell to Hollywood producers who need a property for some emerging pretty boy actor can do scene chewing Oscar turn in. It's about the money, and the message of struggle, despair, pain and the bald determination to rise above it all with superhuman amounts of will power no doubt inspire millions of readers who in turn might be like inspired to spend millions of dollars seeing a film.

Frey, Random House, Oprah and whoever might produce the film version of Frey's book can't afford to admit that the book is a fraud, a bit of slick huckertism no less odious than snake oil cures and bloodless surgery. One can imagine the conference calls that went on between all the concerned when maximum Damage Control was demanded. Like those who believe they see the Virgin Mary in a Baltimore Laundromat, or Elvis gorging himself on pancakes and sausage patties in a turnpike Howard Johnson, we have here the formation of a fervent belief system in a book's "essential truths" about the redemption of the self when, in fact, the only true thing that rings true in this matter is the cash register.

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