Friday, September 14, 2007

Frey Rides Again

So James Frey got another book deal. This one for two million bucks. Boy, some people are upset.

I am not. But I've been confused by the outrage. Tons of books contain lies passed off as truth. The Bible for example, recounts this one story about a guy who walked on water, rose from the dead and supposedly reached the age of 33 without ever having sex or jerking off. It's also got a bit in there about an old man who built a boat big enough to carry all the animals in the world. If you can believe it, this all passes for non-fiction in some circles. More recently, Agusten Burroughs wrote a book about the people who were nice enough to take him in when his parents could not care for him. He recounted incidents both kooky and criminal involving these people. According to the folks who took Burroughs into their home, many of these incidents never happened. They went court. Evidently they had enough going for them that Burroughs settled. No one is calling for Burroughs' head on a platter. Why not?

When the Frey story first broke I thought it was a sophistication issue. A Million Little Pieces sold five million copies or something. Given that the vast majority of Americans never read anything at all, not even a cereal box or a street sign, I guessed that many of these angry folks hadn't read many other books. These people didn't know that writers don't always let the truth get in the way of a good story.

But I also noticed a gender-based trend. Women, it seemed to me, were really ticked-off at James Frey. Many of these women are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to books. How come they didn't understand that these are just stories?

If the men I spoke to cared at all, they considered Frey a panty-waist because he cowered before Oprah Winfrey. Some writers, male and female, were pissed because they felt Frey gave every writer a black eye. I say Frey slandered no one other than himself. That's not a category of libel recognized by US law, so what's the big deal. I mean aside from the fact that he pissed himself on Oprah.

I finally sorted out the obvious this morning. I have not read the entirety of A Million Little Pieces, so whatever impressions I've got may be totally off base, but whatever. Here goes. Frey's book was not funny. It was not charming. It was serious. Had it been whimsical or quirky, like David Sedaris's Naked, or Burroughs's Running with Scissors, I wouldn't be writing this dopey blog entry parsing the meaning and emotional impact of this particular mendacity. Some reporter busted Sedaris for fibbing earlier this year and the whole world yawned. If your lies come off as a goof, no one cares.

But AMLP was way serious. Serious like the boy with the dark hair and the soulful eyes who sits in the back of class and doesn't say much. He doesn't always do his homework. You know he's got some real shit going on at home. But he is so deep. And he gets into fights with other boys, but that's cool because you just know he would, like, protect you from those awful jerks that snapped your bra strap in sixth grade. Frey's book was like James Dean on the page.

And then it wasn't. It was all made up.

So now it clicks. Frey is a masher. He toyed with the feelings of his readers. They crushed-out on this poor fuck-up they read about and then they discovered he'd been lying to them. And the worst thing is that he did it for money.


Heather said...

I don't know John. I think some of the outrage about Frey is that its a recovery story. He takes a lot of credit for recovering from addiction his way, not the 12 step way. I can see how it would irk some struggling, recovering addicts that his problems were fabricated.

John McCloskey said...

Yeah, Fuck the Bullshit indeed. The guy has no right to uphold himself as someone who beat addiction, since presumably he merely suffered from the kind of drug abuse dabbling that afflicts almost every American between the ages of 17 and 25. You're right.

But most of the folks who get in a vocal lather about him don't talk about addiction at all.

John McCloskey said...

This coverage on Gawker is what I'm talking about. There's no mention of addiction recovery here at all.

Heather said...

Agreed that the coverage hasn't been on the addiction angle. But I think its interesting that, unlike other memoirs that contain obligatory embellishments, AMLP was marketed as a "self help" tome. Hence Oprah's embrace and subsequent shunning. Frey may be a douche bag that can't hold his liquor, but I think the larger issue is that his work was moved beyond the realm of memoir to self-help in a way that Sedaris, Borroughs, or even Mary Karr was not. Those memoirs kept the coping mechanism personal and relevant only to the author. I'm not saying that Frey deserves the outrage, its just that the way the book was positioned opened him up to considerable indignation from camps that are particularly interested in the proposition that personal problems can be addressed effectively by short cut methods. I think that is where your gender observation originates.