Friday, January 13, 2006

The sad story of James Frey

I don't know much about James Frey. I haven't read his book, and I haven't seen him interviewed. Certainly I've heard of the book, but the segment about it I saw on the Oprah Winfrey show frustratingly did not tell me what the book was about. There were all these people singing its praises, but I had no idea what the story was. Maybe I just missed that part, but it turned me off anyway. My past experiences with anyone promoting something without the very basics of specifics have been basically, specifically, bad. It felt like they were trying to fool me somehow.

I did read the long article about his book at The Smoking Gun. Long story short, they could not verify the majority of the events in the book, but the few things they were able to corroborate at all were very different from how the book describes them.

According to the article, Frey has said repeatedly that everything in the book is true. I've talked to one person who says that he hasn't said that but rather has always acknowledged that the memoir is a little different from life. I don't know which is true, but the line I'm hearing from Frey today is "I wrote it as I remembered it" and now future printings are going to contain an author's note about it. The differences between the book and the life as described by The Smoking Gun are not standard minor memoir embellishments, in my opinion.

Ultimately, what bothers me about this is summed up in a harsh (and funny) book review I got from this post at Hissy Cat:
A Million Little Pieces is the dregs of a degraded genre, the rehab memoir. Rehab stories provide a way for pampered trust-fund brats like Frey to claim victim status. These swine already have money, security and position and now want to corner the market in suffering and scars, the consolation prizes of the truly lost. It's a fitting literary metonymy for the Bush era: the rich have decided to steal it all, even the tears of the losers.
The Smoking Gun also mentions how greatly this cheater has prospered. The review has more to say also about Frey's writing style. Since I haven't read Frey's work myself, I found this useful for appreciating some of the satire that's followed:
For all Frey's childish impersonation of the laconic Hemingway style, this is one of the most heavily padded pieces of prose I've seen since I stopped reading first-year student essays. Frey manages to puff up this simple story to book length thanks to one simple gimmick: he repeats. Repeats the beginnings of sentences. Repeats the beginnings of phrases. And the endings. Endings of phrases. Phrases and sentences.

And while his prose is repeating, his tale is descending. Descending into Bathos. Bathos in which he wallows. Wallows. In bathos. Bathos, bathos, bathos.
Most of the fun I've found from this, I found through this post at Feministe:And that's all I have to say about that.
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