Saturday, January 28, 2006

Remember the truth. It's all that matters.

I think that that quote, "Remember the truth. It's all that matters." is a very powerful one. It's even in James Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces" that has recently gone under fire by the media. In case you haven't heard, it's under fire because it is billed as a memoir, but the most important parts of the book were fabricated. The most important parts of the book, the parts that leave the reader speechless, are made up, lies!

This story doesn't really have anything to do with Oprah. I mean it does, because the book got popular because of her endorsement, but the fact that the book is based on lies is James Frey's fault and his alone.

I bought "A Million Little Pieces" as an impulse purchase. I was at the bookstore, looking for new and interesting things to read, and came across a pile by the check out of this book. I saw that it had Oprah's 'seal of approval' on it (I've read and enjoyed many books that Oprah has recommended), read the back and decided to buy the book. I read the book and thought it was very well written, and was shocked that it was a true story. Now, I doubted small portions of the book while I was reading, but had no reason to think that it was a lie.

Now on to the specifics. If you haven' t read the book and plan to, you should probably stop reading this post right now. You've been warned...

First, not too far into the book, just after James has arrived at the treatment center, he is taken to the dentist to have his front four teeth repaired. The dentist caps the two to the sides of the front ones, but has to do a root canal on the front two teeth, but says he can't use novocain. James writes for several pages the pain and agony of having these two root canals. After he makes it through the root canals as a reader you think, wow, this man has just had two root canals with no novocain, he can do anything! It sets the stage for cheering him on through his small victories throughout the book. Well here's the truth: James now doubts that he had the root canals without novocain. In his interview with Oprah, when asked whether he had novocain or not at the dentist he replies, "I honestly have no idea."

So, as if the dentist lie wasn't bad enough, here's the real kicker. Throughout the book James makes a friendship with a girl named Lily. She is also in treatment, and the two of them help each other through their recovery, and plan to continue to see each other after they are released from the center. After leaving the treatment center, James writes that he must spend three months in jail, then after his jail term, James promises to go find Lily, who plans a stay at a halfway house in Chicago after her release from the center. James finishes the memoir telling us these plans, then includes a page at the back of the book giving us a glimpse of the future. He lists each of the people/friends/enemies he encountered at the treatment center, and what happened to them after being released. Many of them fell back into their old habits of addiction and alcoholism. Some ended up being killed, some died, and just a few actually recovered and are living productive lives. Then there's Lily. James tells us that Lily hung herself just hours before he was released from jail and before he could get to her.

The truth? Not really. James was only in jail for a few hours, not three months (just a minor detail there, huh?) and while Lily still committed suicide, she cut her wrists, and did not hang herself. The tragedy is still there, Lily died, but why change that detail of how she died? What's the big deal James? And, if James was only in jail for a few hours, what was he doing in the time between being released from jail and going to meet Lily? Here's his answer to that, "I went through Ohio. I was there briefly, [then] I went down to North Carolina where I was living at the time. And I was closing up my life there." What the hell does that mean?!

I have just a few final comments. First, when going to publishers, James first tried to get the book published as a novel. No publisher would take the book. Then he tried the same manuscript as a memoir, and Doubleday & Anchor Books (a division of random house) agreed to publish the book. Second, throughout the interview James refers to the people in the book as "characters." To me, "characters" sounds like a made up person.

James, I think you are a dishonest and deceitful person. I think there is a lot of good in this book, it's an encouraging story of going thru hell and coming out of it a better person. But, I don't know if James is a better person now. Maybe a richer person, but not a better person.

For a full transcript of the Oprah interview with James Frey from Thursday, January 26, click here.


gimlet said...

The story was broken by the investigative website, The Smoking Gun.

Funny that the publisher, Harpo, and assorted big media could not be bothered to discern the truth, but that a couple of poky geeks certainly could.

Damn, it feels good to be a geeksta.

Merc Man said...

This is why I only read Hot Rod Magazine, Road & Track, WorkBench, and Handyman magazine. Instead of Oprah, I only trust Norm Abrams. After all, he put me on to safety glasses and saved me from eye injury!