They’re hanging James Frey out to dry. Doubleday’s offering refunds on his Million Little Pieces book and he’s appearing on Larry King with his mother. Which is worse?
The only damage we can see from Frey’s phony memoir is that it was offered as a rebuttal to various Twelve Step programs, and said to be proof that a longtime powerful addiction to multiple substances could be overcome by sheer will, acceptance of responsibility, and willful rejection of proven treatments.
It seems a lot of people took Frey’s work as a guide, and if it pulled them away from programs, he might even be responsible for a few crimes or even deaths along the way.
People have been taking this guy seriously (check out his website's message board; if it's still up, it's sadly side-splitting), they flock to his appearances, they look to him for answers, and that's why they're taking this scandal so seriously. Frey was showing them The Way, and if he was really a cynical, privileged, rich kid fraud, he let them down. And he may have led some junkie, alcoholic or whacked-out frat boy away from help and toward the abyss.
So whom did James Frey kill?
Or: So whom (besides the people he claimed to have killed in his book) did James Frey kill?
That question is bound to be raised, because the feeding frenzy is on.
And it is true that reading a book with the “non-fiction” label can increase its power.
We know first-hand, through Tabloid Baby. The tabloid television memoir, and its story of a descent into alcohol abuse that’s simultaneous with the scaling of epic journalistic heights, is packed with vivid anecdotes and a “you are there” reality that touched the hearts and souls and funny bones of people around the world. The book would not have a fraction of the impact had it been fictional.
And we’re still waiting for the invite from Oprah.
Frey’s book, and its sequel, were obviously full of invention. We found it more confusing than anything else that there were no disclaimers. From the opening scene on a major airline, to his root canal without anaesthesia, to the bad cinema of his crack whore rescue, scene after scene rang false.
But it was supposedly true, and that was one reason we were even more curious about Frey and his supporting characters, and why we bought the sequel (can we get a refund for that one?), even though the “surprises” were given away at the end of the first book.
Meanwhile, at least one journo who knows his way around drugs was apparently onto Frey from the beginning. Check out John Dolan’s original review and his
follow-up on the website for The Exile, the Moscow-based tabloid site started by Mike Taibbi’s kid. Now this is hilariously powerful writing, and investigating that would do The Smoking Gun proud.