Thu 26 Jan, 2006 04:23 pm
I am watching Oprah and she has James Frey on today. He wrote "A Million Little Pieces." From what I understand this is a pretty awesome book. But, now it seems that the author portrayed himself in what Oprah calls flat out lies.
Has anyone read this book? Did he just take poetic license here or should he be held accountable for this? Isn't what really matters is the message of the story? Afterall, are any "true stories" 100% true?
He sold the book as a true memoir. The claim it was such has been refuted conclusively. Whether that might constitute a lie could be a matter of subjective assessment, however the fact remains he proceeded under false pretenses. He deserves the censure and excoriation he currently is receiving.
Frey lied outright. He made clear that part of it was because he didn't feel his own truth would have been severe enough and so he embellished as if there were no tomorrow. When looking at the actual facts of his life, things were tragic enough and there was no reason to be dishonest...except maybe for the filthy lucre which he received. The book would probably still have been a best seller and may have done as well if not better than it has; however he has tarnished his name and no amount of money will ever take care of that...although he will most likely enjoy it while it lasts.
A memoir is supposed to be honest, otherwise it is fiction and should be labeled as such. If he wanted, or felt the need to be dishonest, he could have written a novel and indicated that it was based upon his life as opposed to his claim that it was his life in all forms and places.
The "censure and excoriation" he is getting from Oprah is the result of her embarrassment at discovering the fine, nebulous line between "nonfiction" and fiction. I was just watching Oprah as well and one columnist said, "He should be kicked out of the 'Kingdom of Oprah.'" People were speaking in such grave tones; it was as if a queen had been insulted. Hilarious.
The greater truth one finds in a book is the truth that resonates with one's own experience/beliefs and THAT does not depend on facts.
Now, this huge backlash is partly the result of Frey's promotional campaign, so whatever humiliation he suffers from having travelled the country and getting his ego stroked for posing as a tuff-as-nails survivor is fine by me.
But the other side of it is that we live in a culture possessed by this idea of "reality." If it happened to someone REAL, it has more truth or value than fiction, so goes the ideology. I know people who bend their eyebrows in alarm if I recommend a novel: "Why would I want to read lies?"
The real illusion is the drama Americans want to infuse into their "real lives," without taking a close look at the larger truth. Everyone wants the most sordid details of Frey's memoir (forget the recovering from addiction part) to be real because life is just not interesting enough.
It's the same reason we have reality TV and US Weekly. We're all so bored with ourselves.
I watch "survivorman" religiously. He gives a great performance of his dealing with whatever nature throws at him and makes it through.
One week I caught a shadow of a cameraman taking his picture as he was trying to catch a "rat" with a deadfall. I was set up . Its all a joke , nothings real.
Its all tofurkey and orange flavored drinks
Jever see a picture of Britney Spears without all the paint?
Frey couldn't sell the book as fiction. His agent suggested that he submit it as memoir--and the rest is history--researched and documented.
All autobiographies, all memoirs are written from a very personal point of view, but there is a major difference between a sea-changed past and a fabricated personal history.
A century ago Parson Weems wrote a "life" of George Washington in which he recounted that little George cut down one of his father's prize cherry trees. When his father asked about the destruction, noble young Georgie replied, "Father, I cannot tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet."
Parson Weems excused his fabrication by saying he wanted to encourage children to emulate The Father of Our Country and to tell the truth.
Frey did what hundreds before him have done. Very few authors paint a truthful picture; they all embellish to a certain extent. Look at Burroughs in "Running with Scissors".
Did anyone question him? Why not? His story was just a big a load of crap as Frey's.
When all this started (the revelations by Smoking Gun about Frey's embellishments), sales of the book increased.
What does that tell us? It depresses the hell out of me. A nation hooked on "reality TV" doesn't even care what's true anymore...
Phoenix, thanks for the link. a couple of quotes at the end were priceless.
to Oprah, on who would play him in the upcoming movie based on his book: "Whoever they're gonna choose I'll be happy with. I'm much more worried with the studio staying true to the story than I am about who they put in it."
and in a Publisher's Weekly interview about a novel he intends to write: "I'm looking forward to showing people that I can write fiction."
Ok, on Nightline right now they are talking about Oprah's show today. They are equating James Frey with Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Clinton, etc.
I can understand that if it was his memoirs they should have been written honestly. If it was just BASED on something in his life, he should have said that. But, is all this really necessary? Are we becoming a finger pointing society? Or maybe this is a publicity stunt? Who is to know nowadays?
I haven't read the book but am not sure whether
Frey should have been so castigated.
Frey may have exaggerated circumstances and details about the people in his life. However, I believe addicts and drug addicts do practise some level of deception, fabrication and distortion . His story may have a greater truth than if he had stuck rigidly to the facts.
"All artists are liars that show us the truth" says Picasso.
This whole fiasco could have been avoided with
a disclaimer...."based on the life of.....
Yeah, "Based On" woulda saved the boy a buncha hassle ... as it is, while a good writer, he's essentially toasted his career; publishers don't take kindly to being publicly embarrassed.
I am right in the middle of the book now.
I too fell into the idea that it was a truthful book.
And, being an addict myself, having gone through physical withdrawl exactly the way he describes.. i can see truth in SOME statements as only an addict would know.
in other statements i am shocked.
The public sucked it up , because most people have no idea what it is like to BE an addict, and it is an ugly underside to society that the Oprah crowd seems to gobble up in a million different ways.
Frey did what alot of other writers wish they could have done.
He tapped into the instant millionaires club by appealing to the oprah crowd with his writing.
Had he have NOT done that, this book wouldn't be an issue.
I only learned last night that this book is partly a lie.
Though my gut told me so when reading it, hearing it from someone else only gave me validation to my stand point.
It is still a good book. I cant take that from it. But, as I have said before, one of the things that really irritates me about things like this .... or I should say BOOKS like this... is the glamorizing of drugs and addiction.
Because most people don't know what it is like to be so physically addicted to something that you can not stop or you WILL die, they read books like this and think everything is always ok. They think t hat one simple step in someones life changes them forever and that addiction isn't as bad as people think.
That mindset spills over into our legal system and addicts everywhere get the brunt of the inexperienced public who thinks that all you need to do is write a book, or pray and you will be sober once again.
wow.. what a tangent that was.
Thanks for starting this topic, I was thinking of doing so.
Of course it matters if he sells it as the truth or not. Just for example, people at Hazelden are very upset because he depicts all kinds of things that can't/ didn't happen there (he doesn't name it, but makes it very clear which treatment facility he means by identifying details -- rural Minnesota, when it started, etc.) and makes people not want to go there to receive treatment. Stuff about being beat up, solitary confinement, etc.
He had so many other options -- just plain a novel (people always assume that stuff is autobiographical if there is an connection at all to the author's life), something in the vein of Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" (I forget how he phrases it, but he says repeatedly that while it's based on his life he takes liberties), etc., etc.
No respect for this stunt, at all. Seems very much in keeping with the problems he is supposedly over.
Here's where I got the Hazelden stuff:
[damning stuff about how Oprah already knew this but ignored it snipped, see whole article]
Since "A Million Little Pieces" was published in 2003, it has been widely reported that the center described in the book is Hazelden, assertions that neither Mr. Frey nor Hazelden has disputed. Hazelden officials, citing medical confidentiality regulations, say they can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Frey was there. But Mr. Frey's descriptions of the center in his book, which say that it is a lakeside retreat in rural Minnesota that opened in 1949, leave little doubt that he is talking about Hazelden.
"His description of treatment at Hazelden is almost entirely false," said Ms. Jay, who trained as an addiction counselor at Hazelden's operations in Minnesota and who is the co-author of two guides to treating addiction published by the Hazelden Foundation. She has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" at least six times to discuss issues related to alcohol and drug addiction.
Ms. Jay said she voiced her objections about "A Million Little Pieces" to a senior producer for Ms. Winfrey's program on Oct. 1, nearly a month before Ms. Winfrey's interview with Mr. Frey was broadcast. "I'm coming forward because his descriptions of treatment are so damaging," Ms. Jay said. "These are things that could not happen to anybody at Hazelden or at any reputable licensed treatment center."
Among the episodes she and the other former counselors have called into question are Mr. Frey's claims of being physically abused by other residents of the treatment center, of being left to sleep on the floor of a common room overnight after an altercation, of regularly vomiting blood and of having his nose rebroken and set by a doctor. "He describes a level of medical care that would not occur at Hazelden," Ms. Jay said. "He would have been taken to an emergency room, and any violent behavior would have been met with a discharge."
In interviews over the last week, Ms. Jay and the other counselors said they had decided to speak publicly because they feared that Mr. Frey's portrayal of rehabilitation was more likely to scare people away than lead them to seek help. While questions have been raised about the book's depiction of rehab by some critics and in online chatter, this is the first time treatment professionals who have worked inside Hazelden have spoken publicly at length.
"I have had young people say to me that if they had a child who was having problems, they would never send them to treatment after reading that book," Ms. Colleran said.
I think it resonated with her -- it's her central story, the strength of the show, the basis of her wealth. The story of the survivor, the one who goes through horrible stuff but perseveres.
The article above makes clear that she (or at least her staff) knew that this was bogus before she ever chose it to be a book club selection -- I think she just went with her feeling, and that it was the wrong decision. After that it was a matter of saving face/ justifying the feeling until facts whapped her upside the head, I think. (Including, perhaps, that very article, since she changed her tune after it.)