News | 2006 | Reading A Million Little Pieces in Public

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Last night, a friend of mine asked me why I was embarassed to be seen reading A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. A completely valid question. Primarily, I didn't want people to see me reading it because of the controversy surrounding the book (if you haven't heard, Frey and Doubleday published the book as non-fiction, Oprah endorsed it, and then, Frey revealed that he embellished and altered facts as he saw fit). Now, I hate to be seen to be jumping on a bandwagon, and I felt that I was doing just that by reading the book. However, I did have another purpose in mind--I thought that to be completely fair to Frey, I would have to read his book before I had the right to comment on it.

Having said that, I knew about the controversy when I read it, and so, I treated the whole work as fiction. End-of-the-day, it's not a bad story, but I feel one that is a little sloppy and ultimately irresponsible. Sloppy in that he does not follow normal syntactical convention (he does not use quotation marks, he repeats himself constantly, and he capitalizes many words that do not need to be emphasized), but, he's not the first writer to muck about with how a text looks, so, fair enough really.

The irresponsible part of the book is his message. In the book, he's a recovering "Addict and an Alcoholic and a Criminal" at a rehab centre. He completely rejects the Twelve Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. He also shows that the people working at the rehab centre believe that their twelve step/AA way is the only way to overcome addiction, even if it only has a fifteen percent success rate. So, in the end, Frey's message is that he said a big "fuck you" to the only known help for combatting addiction and did it his way, and encourages others to do the same. If his work was intended to be an inspiration for recovering addicts, alcoholics, and the people who love them, then his work undermines what he ackowledges as the only proven program that works. Dangerous stuff. Much more dangerous than simply trying to pass fiction (or grossly embellished imperfect memoir) for non-fiction. The danger here is that people will believe what they see in print and will try to do what he did (or said he did), and fail.

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