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A million little peices of BS.
January 8, 2006 8:04 PM   Subscribe

A million little peices of BS.
posted by delmoi (119 comments total)

 
DUPE
posted by phrontist at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2006


"I figured he was taking license...he's a writer, you know, they don't tell everything that's factual and true."
posted by docgonzo at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2006


Err... nevermind, I'm an idiot.
posted by phrontist at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2006


"I before E except after C ..."
posted by kaemaril at 8:09 PM on January 8, 2006


This coked up raver I work with is reading this book. I don't know if I want to tell him because he might glowstick me to do death.
posted by gunthersghost at 8:14 PM on January 8, 2006


to death... not to do...
posted by gunthersghost at 8:16 PM on January 8, 2006


When you spend paragraphs describing the viscosity of your own vomit, your sexual failings, and the nightmare of shitting blood daily, who knew bashfulness was still possible, especially from a guy who wears the tattooed acronym FTBSITTTD (Fuck The Bullshit It's Time To Throw Down).

Awesome. And by that, I mean meh.
posted by Balisong at 8:24 PM on January 8, 2006


pieces.
posted by adgnyc at 8:25 PM on January 8, 2006


Thank you all for pointing out my spelling error.
posted by delmoi at 8:26 PM on January 8, 2006


He may try glowsticking you to do meth, though. Don't give in. Your life may degenerate into A Million Little Pieces
posted by The White Hat at 8:27 PM on January 8, 2006


Srory for being an ashsoel.
posted by adgnyc at 8:28 PM on January 8, 2006


I was just reading this "revelation" on another site. Plowing through the documentation of the author's duplicity, and discovering that as a work of fiction it had been rejected 17 times, I couldn't help but feel a tiny glow of respect for the chutzpah (sp?) of the author.

If no one buys your lame story as fiction, merely dressing it as real and flogging that probably says more about the abysmal taste of its readership than it does about the author.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:32 PM on January 8, 2006


Poor Oprah. Frey's book was her first jaunt into non-fiction, which was supposed to spare her the indignities of the Jonathen Franzen mess that killed her book club for a while. So much for that:

It was after the Oprah show aired that TSG first took a look at Frey. We had simply planned to track down one of his many mug shots and add it to our site's large collection...When we asked Frey if his reporting of the laundry list of juvenile crimes and arrests was accurate, he answered, "Yeah, some of 'em are, some of 'em aren't. I mean I just sorta tried to play off memory for that stuff."

However, repeated dead ends on a county-by-county records search turned our one-off hunt for a mug shot into a more prolonged review of various portions of Frey's book.


Which turns out to be heavily fictionalized. Ugh. Anyway, it's worth mentioning that this first showed up here in srboisvert's comment in the JT Leroy thread. This bit about Frey's lawyers nails it for me:

It was the third time since December 1 that we had spoken with Frey, who told us Friday that our second interview with him, on December 14, had left him so "rattled" that he went out and hired Los Angeles attorney Martin Singer, whose law firm handles litigation matters for A-list stars like Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Britney Spears. While saying that he had initially asked his counsel not to send us a pre-publication legal letter, Frey apparently relented late Friday night. That's when Singer e-mailed us a five-page letter threatening a lawsuit (and the prospect of millions in damages) if we published a story stating that Frey was "a liar and/or that he fabricated or falsified background as reflected in 'A Million Little Pieces.'"

What a fucking idiot Frey must be. And bravo to The Smoking Gun for having the balls to push back.
posted by mediareport at 8:33 PM on January 8, 2006


i do like the title.
posted by brandz at 8:33 PM on January 8, 2006


Wait, this tough guy has a tattoo of the acronym FTBSITTTD and no one suspected that he was just an overprivelidged frat boy?

I mean, call me crazy, but do most career criminals who are all strung out on smack have 311 lyrics tattooed on themselves?
posted by StopMakingSense at 8:34 PM on January 8, 2006


I'm glad to find this out. I really couldn't stand reading this book. And noticed that its "conversational" writing style lulled whoever copy-edited the thing into missing an unusual number of typos and editorial errors. Whoops.
posted by hermitosis at 8:35 PM on January 8, 2006


Did anyone believe this book? I haven't read it (only excerpts), and don't understand the appeal — how does anyone put up with that Stupid Arbitrary Capitalization for n number of Asinine Self-Absorbed Pages? — but I kind of assumed this was bullshit just because the author seemed like such a fucking tool.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:38 PM on January 8, 2006


Here's a hilarious review of the book from two years ago (via Fark). Damn fine journalism from TSG, that was a great read, likely better than the book.
posted by Burton at 8:43 PM on January 8, 2006


Really who cares? All of Oprahs readers who are getting off on the descriptions of depravity* might even fell a little better about themselves knowing that it's not true.

*Because no-one gets off on redemption, that shit's boring.
posted by fshgrl at 8:52 PM on January 8, 2006


I read the book, but didn't care enough to have any suspicions about whether or not he was telling the truth. He wrote about being a junkie. It's not like he was bragging about capturing pirates or anything.
posted by esquire at 8:53 PM on January 8, 2006


Yeah we did this three posts down, in the comments.
posted by xmutex at 9:03 PM on January 8, 2006


Really who cares?

It's important, fshgrl, because 1) it speaks to a larger culture of bullshit routinely accepted as normal in the USA these days, and 2) because of what it will show us about one of the most popular TV figures in the USA today. Aren't you the least bit curious how Oprah and her people will react to this debunking of Frey's "nonfiction" writing?
posted by mediareport at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2006


Yeah we did this three posts down, in the comments.

Pulling great links from comments and posting them to the front page is a tradition as old as MeFi itself, xmutex. Find another thread for your drive-by bullshit snarks, ya jerk.
posted by mediareport at 9:06 PM on January 8, 2006


From Burton's review link ...

Frey has another stylistic tic almost as distracting as his conjunctions: he capitalizes some but not all nouns, making his would-be laconic, macho narrative look as if it had been dictated to Emily Dickinson on a day she'd been sipping laudanum.

HAH.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:10 PM on January 8, 2006


I remember the hype for this book before it came out. A rep from the publishing company told us that there were two big books they were putting out. One was the Da Vinci Code and the other was this. I read through it before it came out, and really felt like I was finishing it more out of determination than desire. It was OK.

I didn't hate it, but I really didn't like it much either.

Then nothing happened with it. It went into paperback, and then Oprah discovered it and it blew up.

Two asides related to the Oprah book club, stories seem to always overlook Oprah's misses. She sold branded copies of Faulkner, but they really didn't sell that well (at least not in my area, an Oprah stronghold).

Her next book is being announced on the 16th. This is one of the few times (as with the Faulkner thing) were bookstores got the word way ahead of time (though I still don't know what it is). The strange thing is, whenever we're prepared for The Oprah Effect (TM), those books aren't very successful.
posted by drezdn at 9:12 PM on January 8, 2006


I read this right after it was published (anyone want a first edition?) and my bullshit-dar went crazy from the first page. To me, it really did read as fiction, and i just didn't buy it, sorta speak. Btw, I hope his book helps a lot of people who need help, but fuck him!
posted by theperfectcrime at 9:13 PM on January 8, 2006


For non-fiction I recommend for Oprah:

They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

22 Amazon reviews, 5 solid stars.
posted by stbalbach at 9:14 PM on January 8, 2006


Even if it's a lie, I still enjoyed it. Maybe I'll even buy myself a new copy and reread it.
posted by travosaurus at 9:15 PM on January 8, 2006


I think I'll stick with my Burroughs & Exley, thank you.

James Frey: "The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake At Night"
There's a spurned Steadman joke lurking in there somewhere.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:17 PM on January 8, 2006


Gotta love TSG.

I didn't read the book, but after just reading the review Burton posted, the excerpts were so cringe-worthy I am baffled as to how it got so much praise from Oprah and her adoring minions.
posted by Meredith at 9:19 PM on January 8, 2006


Pulling great links from comments and posting them to the front page is a tradition as old as MeFi itself, xmutex. Find another thread for your drive-by bullshit snarks, ya jerk.

Gosh. Treat me like I made up a whole memoir and lied to millions of people why don't you.
posted by xmutex at 9:21 PM on January 8, 2006


Even if it were true it sounds like the most tedious book in the world.
posted by cillit bang at 9:29 PM on January 8, 2006


She sold branded copies of Faulkner, but they really didn't sell that well

Well, selling 160,000 copies of an expensive 3-volume Faulkner set in 2005 isn't *that* bad, but yeah, it didn't compare to the 700,000 - 900,000 copies each she sold for The Good Earth, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and Anna Karenina. The relatively low Faulkner sales were reportedly what got her to rethink her post-Franzen "classics only" policy - along with a letter signed by over 100 authors begging her to return to promoting the living rather than the dead. I really liked her move into non-fiction, too; it had real promise for spreading the news about great histories and memoirs. So, I'm really saddened by the news that her first choice has turned out to be so utterly full of shit, and hoping that she doesn't decide to simply junk the entire program again.
posted by mediareport at 9:29 PM on January 8, 2006


Gosh.

Dude, your schtick is fucking incoherent. You loved the link in the first thread and hoped the story would spread far and wide, but could think of nothing to add except a drive-by snark when someone elevates that very same link to the front page? Okay, whatever. But you may want to rethink the way you participate here; it's become pretty obvious you're not sure what you're doing.
posted by mediareport at 9:32 PM on January 8, 2006


Dude, your schtick is fucking incoherent.

You've got it all wrong. Incoherence is the schtick. It's working on all cylinders tonight.
posted by xmutex at 9:41 PM on January 8, 2006


Just keep it out of AskMe.
posted by mediareport at 9:57 PM on January 8, 2006


delmoi, not to be a spelling nazi, but you spelled oprah wrong in the tag thingies--I think you're able to edit those on your own. Might help with future searches.

I don't condone what Frey did, but from another angle... I emailed with him a bit when the book first came out in hc. He was very thoughful to me as an unpublished writer, encouraging me to keep at the keyboard and keep plugging away. Not that I think this negates what he seems to have done, but most authors don't bother to write back when I write and his kind words were appreciated.

As someone who dabbles in "creative" non-fiction, I know that it's very difficult to resist the urge to embellish for the sake of drama. However, when I do this (and I assume when others do), there's a definite line that shouldn't be crossed. Unfortunately, it looks like Frey crossed it and once he did, he kept going and didn't look back. When an author cannot resist crossing the line it's necessary to remove the non-fiction tag even though, to the author, what's written is "true".

For those who question how Frey's book--which isn't the best written memoir--sold so well-- well, I think that it's a good example of the balance between a good story and a good story well told. Frey's is the former. Had he more talent as a writer (as opposed to, for lack of a better word, a scenarist, which is what I feel he is), his book would have sold as well without Oprah's assistance.

Lastly, Frey was not the first memoirist to be found to have taken such liberties. He certainly won't be the last.
posted by Manhasset at 9:59 PM on January 8, 2006


It's important, fshgrl, because

because you say it is. If the book is good, it's good, and if it's not, it's not. Where I come from worth is evaluated from the text and not some tabloid expose spurred by the search for a mugshot of the author.
posted by kjh at 10:04 PM on January 8, 2006


but you spelled oprah wrong in the tag thingies

write harpo backwards
posted by Jikido at 10:04 PM on January 8, 2006


If the book is good, it's good, and if it's not, it's not.

But this is not so. A memoir is not fiction. A memoir is someone telling you a story of their life, and the honesty implicit in both listening to and telling such stories is critically important. There is an element of trust in reading a memoir, and it is a violation of this trust to do what Frey has (apparently) done.

And the fact that the book has come to mean so much for so many people, and the fact that the book presented such strong opinions on emotional subjects like recovery from and dealing with addiction makes his violation all the more... unpleasant, to put it mildly.

Being a liar is not a good quality. Frey is a a liar. And on a grand scale.

Apologies for the earlier snark. It's my new year's resolution to snark less. This is hard. I'm an addict. An Addict and a Snarker.
posted by xmutex at 10:16 PM on January 8, 2006


because you say it is. If the book is good, it's good, and if it's not, it's not. Where I come from worth is evaluated from the text and not some tabloid expose spurred by the search for a mugshot of the author.

No, the shittiness of Frey is not something that can be divided into his life and his bad writing -- it's all part of a shitty, holistic synergy.
posted by johngoren at 10:18 PM on January 8, 2006


If the book is good, it's good, and if it's not, it's not.

I was thinking this myself, but changed my mind. It occurred to me that non-fiction does indeed have the potential to be stranger than fiction, because an unbelievable fictional story is deemed implausible and/or badly-written, but an unbelievable yet true story is fascinating.
posted by mek at 10:20 PM on January 8, 2006


Don't miss Neal Pollack's classic 2003 parody of Frey here.

You can't write, Frey. I can write. Check this out. I wrote this five years ago in my book "Addict: A Memoir Of Addiction.":

"I open the cockpit door and I walk out. The Pilot wipes his nose because he's been snorting coke off my Balls. The flight attendant asks me if everything is OK and I fuck her. Outside, it is Night. The wing is straddled by blinking lights. From where I sit I can smell the lights and I want to break them with my fists. So I bust through the emergency exit door and leap onto the wing. Thank god we're still on the ground. I punch out the lights with my forehead and tear at the steel with my claws. I wish my parents had never made me go to College. I wish that my mind were an endless Chasm and that I could crawl inside. My Balls are blue because I fuck so much. The last time I committed suicide, I hung myself from the neck until I couldn't breathe. My brain is black my balls are black my heart is made of stone and I love nothing but the rush of hop into my vein and if I could get away with it, I would kill You now as you sit there in your comfortable chair reading this and I kill myself and anyone who challenges my position as the greatest fucking writer of my generation. The flight attendant asks me if I want some Cheese and Crackers, but I cannot have any, because I have swallowed my tongue. It tasted fucking good. I love the way my tongue tastes when I swallow it, and I don't care if I ever eat again."

posted by johngoren at 10:27 PM on January 8, 2006


I loved the book, but I listened to it rather than read it. Perhaps the style works better when well narrated. I didn't have any Capitalization issues, for example.

At the time, I didn't really think about whether it was true or not. With hindsight, though, a lot of it does seem pretty unrealistic. Still enjoyed the hell out of it.
posted by callmejay at 11:09 PM on January 8, 2006


From the review linked to upthread:

Women are minor characters in the book, and the least-convincing passages of all are those in which Frey attempts to hint at a grand love affair in the past or tries to contrive a love interest with an addicted former prostitute, Lilly. Here's the hymn to love with which he ends a chapter:

"I miss Lilly.

I miss Lilly.

I miss Lilly."

My reading of this passage is that he missed Lilly. But then I'm a trained literary critic. Other readers may have other, equally valid interpretations.


Heh. Mind you, this bit isn't really that bad, but some of the writing excerpted in the review is pretty piss poor. I'd have to try reading the book myself before passing full judgement myself though.

That said, it will be interesting to see Herself's reaction to this.
posted by kosher_jenny at 11:47 PM on January 8, 2006


I HATED this book so much! I was getting all pissed off talking about it just earlier tonight. Fuck him.
posted by yodelingisfun at 11:50 PM on January 8, 2006


Sock puppet sunday. A KKK infiltrator didn't infilitrate the KKK. Somebody he knew did and he wrote a book as the other guy.
posted by raaka at 11:59 PM on January 8, 2006


But this is not so. A memoir is not fiction. A memoir is someone telling you a story of their life, and the honesty implicit in both listening to and telling such stories is critically important. There is an element of trust in reading a memoir, and it is a violation of this trust to do what Frey has (apparently) done.

And the fact that the book has come to mean so much for so many people, and the fact that the book presented such strong opinions on emotional subjects like recovery from and dealing with addiction makes his violation all the more... unpleasant, to put it mildly.


That's crap. LITERARY truth--the much more important aspect--is the the same as LITERAL truth. None of my education on memoir has taught me that memoir is absolute strict truth. The writer has an obligation to tell "The Truth" but he or she also has an obligation to tell an interesting story. Sometimes those coincide and sometimes they collide. Such is the tapestry of literature. Furthermore, as far as I can tell (I declined to reward such abhorrent behavior with yet more pageviews), this cheap tabloid reporting primarily impugns Frey's alleged criminal record. I don't see what bearing it has whatsoever on what he has to say about addiction and recovery.

No, the shittiness of Frey is not something that can be divided into his life and his bad writing -- it's all part of a shitty, holistic synergy.

That's a disgusting ad hominem and you should be ashamed. What did he ever do to you? Did he tie you to a chair and force you to read his awful, awful, phony book? Jeez louise.

(For the record I haven't read this book though I've had it recommended to me. As a writer I am not shocked that a fellow author may have stretched the truth. The book in question is not a chemistry textbook and the value of "truth" as applied to a memoir is simply not the same: the author may not even have a completely clear recollection of certain pivotal events, and every recollection that he or she does have is heavily colored by his or her own perceptions. I am very disappointed that such sensationalist journalism should be taken so seriously.)
posted by kjh at 1:08 AM on January 9, 2006


Sorry: LITERARY truth--the much more important aspect--is the not the same as LITERAL truth.
posted by kjh at 1:09 AM on January 9, 2006


Great, now someone is going to tell me that Jonathan Lethem can't fly.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:34 AM on January 9, 2006


kjh: So basically, you didn't read the post at all? If you did, you'd find out that Frey didn't just 'stretch the truth', he made it up completely. He didn't spend anywhere near 3 months in jail. He wasn't a chief target of an FBI probe into drugs. He didn't get beaten up by policemen and have cocaine confiscated, and go out fighting. He didn't get otrascised by his community for supposedly caused the death of a girl in a car accident. He isn't 'wanted in three states'.

It's not like he said he spent four months in jail and in fact only spent three months there; most people wouldn't care about that. It's that he's totally confabulated most of the important events in his book.
posted by adrianhon at 1:58 AM on January 9, 2006


I can lie and make money!!!!! Fuck school!
posted by AMWKE at 1:59 AM on January 9, 2006


kjh:

That's a disgusting ad hominem and you should be ashamed. What did he ever do to you?

"What did he ever do to you?" Ha. As if you have to personally know someone to be able to criticize his character.
It's not an ad hominem attack. Someone who passes off a bunch of lies as truths about his life is a piece of shit. It's pretty much the same as those journalists who made up their stories. There's a reason why we distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. "Artistic license" does not justify making up crap when you try to pass it off as truth. You are confusing literature with non-fiction.
posted by aerify at 4:00 AM on January 9, 2006


kjh:

the value of "truth" as applied to a memoir is simply not the same

That is a disgusting and intellectually dishonest attitude to take. Just because your memory is crap doesn't make it alright to make up everything. If he had written a fictionalized account of his life, then yeah it doesn't matter what he says. But if he's passing his work off as truth, then he has an obligation to the truth. You can't claim it's non-fiction then fall back on "literature" when it's exposed that you are a liar.
posted by aerify at 4:06 AM on January 9, 2006


Frey told Cleveland's Plain Dealer in a May 2003 interview that the book was straight nonfiction, claiming that his publisher, Doubleday, "contacted the people I wrote about in the book. All the events depicted in the book checked out as factually accurate. I changed people's names. I do believe in the anonymity part of AA. The only things I changed were aspects of people that might reveal their identity. Otherwise, it's all true."
posted by aerify at 4:08 AM on January 9, 2006


kjh:
...cheap tabloid reporting
...sensationalist journalism

The Smoking Gun is not a tabloid. It is very reliable and all its sources come directly from publically available court and police records.

I have a feeling that you, as a writer, are taking this attack personally because it's criticizing your dearly-held belief that you are not beholden to truth, like journalists are. Frey must be the perfect role model for you; writing trash fiction, passing it off as truth and becoming a millionaire.
posted by aerify at 4:15 AM on January 9, 2006


kjh:

"LITERARY truth--the much more important aspect--is not the same as LITERAL truth."

Speaking as a "fellow writer" -- one who has authored both fiction and non-fiction books -- that is just about the goddamned stupidest thing anyone's said in this entire thread.

It's simple: If a book purports to be non-fiction, then it needs to be telling the truth (i.e., the events happened substantially as described in the book). If the book purports to be non-fiction, but is in fact full of events where the author is just making shit up as he goes along, then the fellow is fraud, regardless of any moist "literary truth" that's puddling up here and there in the text. Which is to say, in a non-fiction work, the "Literary Truth" had damn well better be the "Literal Truth" because, guess what? That's what the book said it was.

People suggesting that it's okay that someone lies in a non-fiction book because "truthyness" is more important than genuine truth is one of the reasons genuine truth is in such bad fucking shape these days.
posted by jscalzi at 4:49 AM on January 9, 2006


I didn't see any mention of whether his addictions were fabricated or not? I read the book, and enjoyed it. The odd writing style and capitalization usage were, to me, intentional - as a way of conveying the authors crazed thought processes. It doesn't really matter to me if it's true or not. At any rate, the focus of the book to me was Frey dealing with his addictions - which from what I've seen so far isn't fabricated. I guess it wouldn't really matter - reading a book is a personal experience, and its either a good read or it's not. For me, it was.

Much ado about nothing...
posted by matty at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2006


Oh - quick disclaimer - I picked it up off the shelf because I'm shallow and liked the cover art. I had NO IDEA it was on the Oprah list... I SWEAR!!!
posted by matty at 5:27 AM on January 9, 2006


I'm with jscalzi. Fuck truthiness. Statements about the world are either true or they're false. Note: Some statements are not about the world, or are about some world not our own, and this statement doesn't apply.
posted by zpousman at 5:34 AM on January 9, 2006


I think the most important fallout from this revelation is going to be for the thousands of addicts and recovering addicts who have taken this book to heart. My little brother, recovering from heroin addiction as I write this, has been reading this book every morning at the methadone clinic; it's become his bible, a source of intense empowerment for him to kick the habit and start over again. He raves about this book, its power, its Truth... when he finds out that the whole thing is a pile of bullshit, I know that it's going to hurt him a lot, and I'm sure he's not the only one it's going to hurt. As fragile as he is right now, he sure as shit doesn't need this.

Fuck you, Frey.
posted by saladin at 5:35 AM on January 9, 2006


This reminds me of the dust-up over Whitley Strieber's Communion, which was marketed and shelved as nonfiction and stayed on nonfiction bestseller lists for ages. My guess is that Communion wouldn't have been nearly as popular if it hadn't successfully co-opted the cultural capital that comes with the perception of truth, and that indisputably translates into real financial value.

If kjh believes that Frey's actions are warranted, then it seems he is also forced to believe that Strieber's book has some sort of meaningful "literary truth" that warrants its categorization as nonfiction, since the difference between the lies told in both books is a matter of degree, not kind. Both books contain wholesale fabrications (though the standard defense for Strieber's book is usually that he claimed to believe he was abducted by aliens, not that he actually was abducted by aliens).
posted by Prospero at 5:45 AM on January 9, 2006


It's simple: If a book purports to be non-fiction, then it needs to be telling the truth (i.e., the events happened substantially as described in the book). If the book purports to be non-fiction, but is in fact full of events where the author is just making shit up as he goes along, then the fellow is fraud, regardless of any moist "literary truth" that's puddling up here and there in the text.

Agreed, completely.

But I do have a hard time squaring that notion with the career of Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose Thompson gets a pass because his writing style (and references to copious amounts of controlled substances consumed) sends the signal, "some of the following is crazy made-up shit."
posted by baltimore at 5:46 AM on January 9, 2006


Apologies for the earlier snark. It's my new year's resolution to snark less. This is hard. I'm an addict. An Addict and a Snarker.

This is one of the best (and funniest) apologies I've read on MeFi, and it makes me think much better of xmutex than I did. Now keep your resolution, you wacky addict!
*gives xmutex a noogie*

kjh: Others have given you a good thrashing, so I'll just point out mildly that you may be over-identifying. Step back and say to yourself: "I am not Frey, Frey is not me. An attack on Frey is not an attack on me or on all writerdom. It is an attack on Frey, who is in fact a lying asshole."
posted by languagehat at 6:11 AM on January 9, 2006


SO very, very annoyed reading this superb take-down (hated Frey's book, but trusted its core truth.)

FYI, Charles Dickens had the goods on self-serving lying shits like Frey back in 1854 in his novel "Hard Times".You could even say Dickens' character Bounderby is Frey's inspiration.

Two Bounderby quotes from "Hard Times": "I hadn't a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, I didn't know such a thing by name. I passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. That's the way I spent my tenth birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch."

"As soon as I was big enough to run away, of course I ran away. Then I became a young vagabond; and instead of one old woman knocking me about and starving me, everybody of all ages knocked me about and starved me. They were right; they had no business to do anything else. I was a nuisance, an incumbrance, and a pest. I know that very well."

The point being that Bounderby has made up his appalling background in all its repulsive details purely to advance himself. Like Frey, he even makes a virtue of grossing out his listeners with his former depravity - to prove how far he has rehabilitated himself.

Bounderby is spectacularly rumbled in the end - his mother turns out to be a blameless parent, not the drunken bitch of his cunning inventions.

I don't often reread Dickens. But he nailed the eternal truth about Frey-type hypocrites; that they have a knack for spewing out just the sort of nasty, self-abasing color - while also using other people in their fiction shamelessly - that the audience can't believe they are making it up.

More than 150 years after publishing "Hard Times" - I can hear Dickens chuckling.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:19 AM on January 9, 2006


From the SG article.

As it was, Frey's original manuscript was rejected by 17 publishers before being accepted by industry titan Nan Talese, who runs a respected boutique imprint at Doubleday (Talese reportedly paid Frey a $50,000 advance). According to a February 2003 New York Observer story by Joe Hagan, Frey originally tried to sell the book as a fictional work, but the Talese imprint "declined to publish it as such."

Without wanting to seem like a Frey apologist, this paragraph is probably quite illuminating. He had a pretty big carrot dangled in front of him.
posted by johnny novak at 6:28 AM on January 9, 2006


I haven't read A Million Little Pieces... but I have read Augusten Burroughs' memoir Dry, which I am assuming from the content, is almost identical to Frey's book... Can anyone else comment on the similarness of these books?
posted by cusack at 6:42 AM on January 9, 2006


Aren't the people who read books suggested by Oprah the same people who pay money to watch Ashley Simpson lipsync a concert and believe every word that comes out of George Bush's mouth? This guy is just pulling the same crap - giving the American people a story that gives them a semblence of reality that they want to see. Professional wrestling as journalism. I just wonder what took someone so long to do this. I assume he will be grudgingly accepted and this book will spawn a whole new genre of "reality" journalism which is neither.
posted by any major dude at 6:50 AM on January 9, 2006


It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough, you
Know you’re

Gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to snark

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to snark
Might as well face it, you’re addicted to snark
posted by matteo at 6:52 AM on January 9, 2006


But I do have a hard time squaring that notion with the career of Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose Thompson gets a pass because his writing style (and references to copious amounts of controlled substances consumed) sends the signal, "some of the following is crazy made-up shit."

Exactly. Thompson never purported to be writing a memoir. I think that one of the points of his Gonzo Journalism style was that he *was* able to use exaggeration, metaphor and flights of fancy to reveal a literary truth that was, in many senses, more accurate than the literal truth.

But the difference between Thompson and Frey is that Thompson never sets out to deliberately decieve you. He's using a set of literary conventions that I believe make it more than apparent to the reader that he's using a blend of fact and fiction.

Frey, in contrast, does exactly the opposite. He doesn't simply embellish and embroider for the sake of a good story, or to get at some larger 'literary truth'. He does precisely the opposite. He seems to be inventing stuff out of whole cloth -- and not to provide us with some new and important insight, literary or otherwise -- but simply to cash in on that huge gullible market for good addiction memoirs.

But I think what gets up my nose most of all is that writing and reporting on drugs and addiction is thoroughly saturated with bullshit. The only thing that was remotely of any interest at all to me about Frey's memoir was the fact that it seemed to challenge one of the central tenets of the dominant US ideology about addiction and addiction treatment, ie, that recovery is only possible through a 12 step program and without it, the addiction will continue it's progression until interrupted by death.

Despite the mountains of data on the various ways that people recover, the US media continue to uncritically report that 12 steps is the only valid form of recovery. Frey's book was one of an extremely tiny number of books that make this point, and was almost certainly the only best seller that does it.

Now though, partisans for the 12 step fellowships will be pointing the finger and saying, 'See? See what we told you? Unless you embrace the higher power, nothing will really change. Sure, you might not drink or drug, but you'll still be the same old lying, scamming dope fiend that you always were..."

And in this instance, they may even have a point...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:55 AM on January 9, 2006


More topical Pollack

If you're wondering where all the records of my various crimes have gone, well, they were destroyed in a fire a few years ago, a fire that spread across neighborhood police stations in every state. You didn't hear about that fire because of another fire that night, this one afflicting newsrooms.
posted by grobstein at 6:58 AM on January 9, 2006


Oprah? DOn't you folks have like 'jobs' or something?
posted by HTuttle at 7:01 AM on January 9, 2006


My wife loved this book, but when she loaned it to me, I started questioning its truth from chapter one. Before I finished the second chapter she got so tired of my snarky comments that she took the book back from me and gave it to her sister to read; you better beleive I'm going to show her this.

"...simply not credible..."

-Frey actually links to this Village Voice review from his own website; he has some degree of honesty.
posted by TedW at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2006


Without wanting to seem like a Frey apologist, this paragraph is probably quite illuminating. He had a pretty big carrot dangled in front of him.

I know precisely how he feels. In the past, I pitched a novel to a British publisher -- based on my own personal experiences of drugs and addiction. The publisher wasn't interested in a novel, but bought it as a memoir.

For me, this threw up all manner of difficulties -- which I imagine are very similar to the difficulties that Frey faced.

The typical addiction memoir tends to follow the paradigm laid out in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. A story of moral laxity, followed by a fall from grace, followed by the long, dark teatime of the soul, followed by asking Him for forgiveness, followed by acceptance into the Kingdom of Heaven/society/the fellowship/etc. where the true meaning of one's life is then revealed.

OK, so if you want your memoir to sell, you gotta have two things:

Firstly, you need a good drugalogue story. Your drugalogue has to differ from that of the majority of addicts, otherwise why would anyone read it? I woke up, I went to work, I went home, I got drunk just doesn't cut it -- even if that kind of dull, banality is the reality for most addicts and alcoholics.

As Frey seems to have worked in Hollywood (or claims to have done so anyway), then the chances are that he's swallowed all those Sid Fields/Robert McKee books completely, and cynically and mechanically wrote a book that was designed from the outset to be a blockbuster.

The second thing that you need is a USP. Frey's Unique Selling Point was his non-membership of AA. Of course, his personally designed programme for recovery looks a lot like AA/NA, but then the common sense advice about achieving and sustaining abstinence are pretty common across the programmes and theoretical models.

Anyway, my point was that I understood the temptations that Frey was confronted with. As for myself, I've shelved this project for another year or so, when my youngest child will be eighteen and old enough to go off to University, so is less traumatized when her father tells her about all of the dark and dirty secrets in *his* closet.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:14 AM on January 9, 2006


A crack addict has issues with the truth. Who would have thought it?
posted by caddis at 7:28 AM on January 9, 2006


A job?... and miss Oprah?
posted by bigmike at 7:32 AM on January 9, 2006


Great, now someone is going to tell me that Jonathan Lethem can't fly.

Well, he can't. But he did really get his sexual nerve endings swapped with those of an ex-wife.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:37 AM on January 9, 2006


Robocop is bleeding, now that's an obscure reference.
posted by drezdn at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2006


Mr. Frey has blogged about The Smoking Gun article.

no permanent link available, sorry.
posted by callicles at 9:01 AM on January 9, 2006


callicles: Any way to copy and paste what he wrote? The page isn't loading.
posted by billysumday at 9:25 AM on January 9, 2006


There's absolutely *no* evidence that this asshat was even a cokehead. My "hunch" after reading everything I could this morning is that he's the following: inveterate liar, exaggerator, publicity hound, money-grubbing bastard, and wannabe writer. Oh, and not incidentally, plagiarist, if you believe John Dolan's follow-up article on eXile:

link text

(And it sounds like he may have borrowed some of his "drug addict realism" from Burrough's Dry, as well, but I haven't read that; I'm just going on what others have said, on this thread and others.)

And, maybe, could be, who knows, occasional drug user. Frat boy given to the usual frat boy excesses; nothing remarkable here. Move along.

(Oh, except for being selected for Oprah's Book of the Month Club. That's remarkable, but not for the reasons Frey was hoping. Now that is going to be one interesting apology by Oprah. Who, in many ways, I really like. But I think this was a major, major misstep.)
posted by jenii at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2006


Sorry about the above link. I'm new to this. (It works correctly, but, uh, I didn't know that "link text" could be edited... whoops.) (Darn n00bs.)

Here it is, amended:

John Dolan's follow-up article on www.eXile.com, alleging plagiarism by Frey.
posted by jenii at 9:37 AM on January 9, 2006


Thanks for posting this. I had heard not a word of any of this - I've never seen or heard of anyone reading, much less caring deeply about, this book - so the whole thing was pure cynical entertainment.

Some great snarky investigative writing by TSG, though if they're gonna focus on this area, they should learn that the past participle of drink is "drunk."
posted by soyjoy at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2006


It's this sort of thing that makes me glad I'm illiterate.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:00 AM on January 9, 2006


A) Everybody who writes memoirs lies. In fact, anybody who writes anything lies. B) Any reader who could imagine a crackhead remembering detail like that? Not someone to feel sorry for.
posted by Football Bat at 10:07 AM on January 9, 2006


"In fact, anybody who writes anything lies."

Everybody lies, so this is axiomatic. The trick is not to intentionally lie when writing non-fiction.
posted by jscalzi at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2006


The odd writing style and capitalization usage were, to me, intentional

!no one's denying that! It's just that it's so Fucking Cliche and tired and adolescent, so tired, so adolescent, like reliving high school, like those deep poems you wrote to yourself and burned up, Yes.

The links parodying & reviewing him are very funny. The excerpts are painful, perhaps because I forgot to burn all my high school poetry, and occasionally come across an old notebook which reminds me that it is decidedly a good thing that I don't have lots of money, connections & hubris, or I might have embarrassed myself like this poor Mr. Frey, and publically admitted to having written such schlock.
posted by mdn at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2006


Jesus christ, who the fuck pretends to be a cokehead? That's so sad.
posted by zerolives at 10:38 AM on January 9, 2006


zerolives: assuming he really sold 3.5 million copies, he probably earned a boatload of cash from his pretending.

Watch out for the next book "I LIED, I CONNED, I'm a Born again Crustacean and I tricked you"
posted by elpapacito at 10:47 AM on January 9, 2006


"Boatload of cash" indeed.

According to the TSG article, "Frey's nonfiction memoir's roaring success (and that of its sequel "My Friend Leonard") has earned him millions of dollars and allowed for the kind of luxuries that few young authors ever see--a $2.55 million Manhattan apartment, an Amagansett summer house, and first-class travel."

That's a pretty compelling reason to pretend to be a (recovered, no less) cokehead, eh? I wouldn't believe anything this fat otter weasel wrote at this point. Maybe he did a little coke, maybe not. Maybe he's recovered, maybe not. Who knows?

And that, to anyone who says, "Who cares? It's a memoir; every memoir is a lie," is why it matters if Frey lied or told the truth. If I was a recovered, or recovering, addict who was relyin on James Frey's inspiring non-fiction for my own recovery, I would be asking myself some pretty hard questions right now.
posted by jenii at 11:08 AM on January 9, 2006


Just to underscore, this is terrific investigative journalism by TSG. It's also refreshing to read a report that, having fully documented untruths, has the balls to call the perpertrator a liar -- even in the face of a threatening letter from a lawyer.
posted by sixpack at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2006


The truth is never libel.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2006


Mr. Frey has blogged about The Smoking Gun article.

What a hoot. It's the classic Outraged Harumph response - about as clear a signal as there is that someone's been nailed dead to rights. He reprints TSG's latest letter and then adds, "So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won’t dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response."

Yeah, it's no fucking wonder you won't respond. Big Jim Industries, indeed. And what sixpack just said.
posted by mediareport at 11:39 AM on January 9, 2006


Back in August, 2004, I posted something about a fake memoir called Forbidden Love. The thread got the same kind of comments about "oh, why is this a problem, it's up to the reader to read critically", etc. This attitude astounded and appalled me then and now. If we've gotten to the point where we don't even expect people to try to tell the truth we're in deep trouble.

And I just don't agree with the whole "literary truth" excuse. If you can't when writing non-fiction tell the literal truth in a compelling way, you're either a shitty writer or you need to write fiction instead.
posted by orange swan at 11:41 AM on January 9, 2006


orange swan, it's just not a big deal. I can't imagine why this has become such a big issue. Is it Oprah's part? Really, adhering strictly to the truth is vitally important for many classes of people: politicians, agents of the justice system, academics, journalists, corporations, etc, etc. Writers? Not so much. And this guy isn't even a notable writer. It's partly this fanatical insistence that everybody tell the truth all the time or They've Sinned that leads to a culture where most everybody is exhausted and too tired to care about the truth. If this guy lied the joke's on him. The whole world knows he's a liar now. The attitude behind the TSG "investigation" (as if there's been a crime here, really) and many of the comments in this thread is just good old Schaedenfreude. If people really care about the truth, then give up the stupid celebrity gossip--and that's all this really is, the TSG guys aren't journalists, they're entertainers that knows what sells--and save your outrage and indignation for when the really bad stuff occurs.
posted by nixerman at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2006


"So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won’t dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response."

I'll bet he dances like there's no one watching as well.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2006


It's also refreshing to read a report that, having fully documented untruths, has the balls to call the perpertrator a liar -- even in the face of a threatening letter from a lawyer.

amen to that.
now, if only the alleged liberal media started doing something like that with pol-
posted by matteo at 11:55 AM on January 9, 2006


The whole world knows he's a liar now.

Why is that, I wonder? Could it be because of, oh, I dunno, the TSG investigation?

the TSG guys aren't journalists

And yet, somehow, they produced high-quality journalism. Goodness me. nixerman, you're not making any sense here.
posted by mediareport at 12:03 PM on January 9, 2006


FTBITTTD
posted by billysumday at 12:06 PM on January 9, 2006


Nixerman:

"Really, adhering strictly to the truth is vitally important for many classes of people: politicians, agents of the justice system, academics, journalists, corporations, etc, etc. Writers? Not so much."

Okay, now, this is the secondest goddamn stupidest thing anyone's said on this thread.

I've written five non-fiction books, and you know what? Adhering to the truth is vitally important, thank you very much, and anyone who says otherwise is so obviously and completely ignorant of what non-fiction writers do that their opinions count for exactly squat.

Every time some jackass says "Oh, the truth doesn't really matter," I want to reach for a revolver. The truth damn well does matter, and if you're writing non-fiction, you're supposed to be telling the truth. It's not hard to grasp, people.
posted by jscalzi at 12:10 PM on January 9, 2006


It's partly this fanatical insistence that everybody tell the truth all the time or They've Sinned that leads to a culture where most everybody is exhausted and too tired to care about the truth.

Er, I doubt very much that the act of telling the truth has exhausted anyone. It's my experience that lying is much harder work, and being lied to is gruelling.

It's true that these particular lies will not have a huge total effect. People who shelled out for this crappy book will be mad. Oprah will be embarrassed, but she'll live to pick out more awful books on another day. I do wince for any recovering addicts who drew from this book and now will be getting a blow they don't need, and I hope Frey loses everything he gained from this and winds up destitute.
posted by orange swan at 12:11 PM on January 9, 2006


If he didn't lie he wouldn't be a millionaire multi-book-contracted author now. Of course he had to lie to create the sensation his book caused. Who would buy a book about a wannabe screenwriter who cultivated a little coke problem that he took care of after his mommy and daddy paid for rehab?

He is good for one interesting question: Would you publicly lie and keep lying if people paid you a million dollars to do it?

Show of hands?
posted by sacre_bleu at 12:14 PM on January 9, 2006


He is good for one interesting question: Would you publicly lie and keep lying if people paid you a million dollars to do it?

No. Because one way or another I would be caught and then I would lose the million dollars.

I don't really care much about Frey. Like Jayson Blair and Naomi Khouri he's a lying, talentless piece of shit, and probably a sociopath, and he's already gotten more attention than he ever warranted. What really gets to me is the way we so often reward such members of our society, and how when we discover our mistakes, some people aren't even interested in correcting them.
posted by orange swan at 12:21 PM on January 9, 2006


I publicly lie all the time: In addition to non-fiction, I also write fiction. Pay me a million dollars for that, I'll happily lie for you some more.

Otherwise, no. If I'm going to lie, I'm doing to do it for a better reason than mere money.
posted by jscalzi at 12:23 PM on January 9, 2006


Man, sales of this book must've bought a shitload of blow.
posted by NationalKato at 12:34 PM on January 9, 2006


No. Because one way or another I would be caught and then I would lose the million dollars.

mm, no reason to think he's gonna lose his million dollars, actually.
posted by mdn at 12:38 PM on January 9, 2006


You know, orange swan, I really, really hope Frey isn't a sociopath. The thought depresses me even more than the fact that he's made a fortune out of being just that bit creepier, cynical, brazen and exploitative than even Jayson Blair and co.
I'm hanging on to the hope that, after this, he will always feel slightly sick - for the rest of his life -when he looks at his worthless book. Or when he catches an unguarded look of shame from his father - I read somewhere today his dad is a professor?

As for nixerman's comments.
I felt like sounding off about their stupidity too. But I checked his pearls of wisdom on other topics. They're not nearly as completely vapid. Put it down to a bad brain day?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:41 PM on January 9, 2006


I like the books. I'll admit it. I read them both. I was annoyed by the capitalization, the repetition and the run-on sentences (and the machismo). I was even more annoyed that he kept up this gimmick in the sequel. But the stories are good. Even if they're not true. I was dubious from pretty much the beginning, but it didn't stop me from picking up the sequel. I like the characters. I'd read a third volume if one comes out.

The author's clearly a douchebag, but I still like the narrator.
posted by elvissinatra at 12:56 PM on January 9, 2006


As a writer and editor of non-fiction, I sure as hell expect what is written as non-fiction to be true. I don't even tolerate exagerration - if someone writes that something is always true, or happens every time, there better be zero exceptions. There's no excuse for writing anything but the exact truth if that is what one is claiming to write. And not only does the general narrative have to be true, but every little detail has to be true as well. If you want to explore only "literary truth," go write fiction.

Now, obviously, anybody who has ever watched Ran or its many imitators realizes that people's perceptions make their views of events that happened in the past, especially a long time ago in the past, quite different. When someone writes a memoir, I don't believe everything that person writes. But I sure expect that writer to believe everything he has written. Truth is actually especially important in a memoir - if you can't trust an author to be truthful about who he is, why should you trust what he writes about anything else?

Frey might as well have written how he helped Japan win WWII with advanced technology from the 23rd century; that story would contain as much "truth" as his memoir contains. Frey's no better than Stephen Glass, though Glass was a better writer and had more imagination.
posted by spira at 4:06 PM on January 9, 2006


Now, obviously, anybody who has ever watched Ran or its many imitators realizes that people's perceptions make their views of events that happened in the past, especially a long time ago in the past, quite different.

I think maybe you mean Rashomon.
posted by languagehat at 4:54 PM on January 9, 2006


Yes, of course, Rashomon.
posted by spira at 6:20 PM on January 9, 2006


So, to sum up this thread: evidently Mr. Frey couldn't write fiction, so he just made a bunch of stuff up.
posted by TedW at 6:32 PM on January 9, 2006


(I forget who I stole that line from, but I almost never get a chance to use it).
posted by TedW at 6:33 PM on January 9, 2006


I think maybe you mean Rashomon.

"That's not how I remember it!" --Homer Simpson
posted by GaelFC at 9:12 PM on January 9, 2006


Actually, all this reminds me of that Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin tells his mom he's writing a book. When asked what it's about, he says it's based on his life, "But I've got a flamethrower."
posted by Football Bat at 9:05 AM on January 10, 2006


I can lie and make money!!!!! Fuck school!

And .. be President someday!
posted by ericb at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2006


The publisher's (Doubleday) reaction: "Memoir is a personal history whose aim is to illuminate, by way of example, events and issues of broader social consequence. By definition, it is highly personal. In the case of Mr. Frey, we decided 'A Million Little Pieces' was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections. Recent accusations against him notwithstanding, the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers."

In other words, it sells, so who cares if it's true or not. I'm getting sick of hearing that it's just "his version of events." There's a big difference between telling a story from your own perspective and making things up out of whole cloth.
posted by spira at 7:34 PM on January 10, 2006


If you bought the book directly from the publisher, they'll refund your money. Probably not useful for most, but maybe libraries could get the credit.
posted by donnagirl at 1:54 PM on January 11, 2006


xmutex: But this is not so. A memoir is not fiction. A memoir is someone telling you a story of their life, and the honesty implicit in both listening to and telling such stories is critically important. There is an element of trust in reading a memoir, and it is a violation of this trust to do what Frey has (apparently) done.
This is actually a very hot and trendy topic right now. The market for fiction is cold, cold, cold; te market for non-fiction -- particularly for "creative non-fiction" -- is hot, hot, hot.

Adn the boundaries between th two are not at all clear-cut. If you write about your life, and you get the details wrong, does it become fiction? Because any of us who are honest know that we will get details wrong. We'll say it was raining hard on some night when the weather report says it was clear as a bell. We'll say she came on time, when in fact, we were late.

I'm not excusing him -- but it's not a simple problem. It is pervasive. Judge Alito has been on teh stand giving a prime example of re-writing personal history over hte past two days. Somewhere in that thread Rothko invoked Harry Frankfurter's On Bullshit, which it a great, short and clear discussion of this problem, and I suggest we all go read it and then reconvene here to discuss....
posted by lodurr at 4:35 PM on January 11, 2006


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