1.15.2006

What IS so bad about James Frey?

So then tell me what's so bad about what James Frey may or may not have done in his memoir? It's his story. Are people just pissed because it's billed as non-fiction? Would he have been wiser to write it as a novel? Is the label that important?


First, this is the scandal du jour. It's fun to talk about. It's drugs, sex, rock n'roll with a guy nobody likes. What's more fun than watching an arrogant prick get taken down for lying about such stupid stuff? Doing 1099s? nooooo Reading the slush pile? noooooooooooo.

Frankly, I think it's the degree of the lie. Yes people remember things differently. Remembering you've gone to jail if you haven't is either:

1. symptom of a severe mental illness
2. a very very strange way to distinguish yourself from the pack.

The thing about James Frey is his "memoir" is supposed to make you think he was at the botttom of the barrel, stinking of offal, drenched in blood, sweat and vomit, and thus his journey OUT was a challenge worth reading about and respecting.

It becomes a whole different matter when you find out there's not that much to respect since he not only wasn't in jail, he wasn't stinking of offal, he made up the story of his girlfriend's suicide and now seems to think there's something wrong with people being more than a bit taken aback by it.

I read a wonderful memoir by Trudi Chase called When Rabbit Howls. If I found out that book was faked, I'd be heartbroken, cause I saw personally how she inspired people with mental illness, and I thought she was courageous beyond words for going public with her story.

James Frey is mostly just the Scandal du Jour and lots of fun to talk about.

The interesting thing to watch is if Sean MacDonald and the very very very smart people who run Penguin USA keep Frey's next two novels on their list, and if he keeps his film deals alive.

It's all gossippy fun till we start talking money.

16 comments:

SAND STORM said...

Frey mentioned on Larry King that his next books were being published at River something and not Penguin.

Anonymous said...

Riverhead is a division of Penguin. I have writen them to register my disgust with Mr. Frey and my hope that they will cancel his contracts. Probably won't work, but can't hurt.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the label is important. When I buy a memoir, I expect it to be pretty close to the truth. When I buy a novel, I expect it to be pretty much fiction.

According to Smoking Gun, he was turned down by 17 publishers when he tried to sell it as fiction. That should say something about the book's real worth.

Miss Snark said...

Riverhead is an imprint of the Penguin group.
They didn't publish the memoir.
They are slated to publish "the novels".

Anonymous said...

Let me put a whole different wrinkle on this. There are some memoirs where it would be unethical--technically, a breach of fiduciary responsibility--for the author not to falsify the content. A therapist writing about patients, a journalist writing about his use of sources, a priest writing about confessants, a lawyer writing about her clients. In these examples, the legal rule of thumb is that without permision if persons can recognize themselves in the writing, their expectation of confidentiality is violated. Of course, it is one thing to make a person unidentifiable, it's another to say you had a long term in stir when you were released without bail.

Pepper Espinoza said...

Why are people still talking about it?

Because people, in general, don't like to be taken for fools. It's as simple as that. The people who are upset are the ones who were played, and nobody likes a player...

Laurie said...

In discussing literary forgeries in another blog, someone mentioned that "Go Ask Alice" was a fraud.

I think it might have been fairly powerful to me even if I'd read it as a novel rather than a "real teen's diary." Still, the fact that we thought it WAS a real teen (albeit, a very unlucky one), made us take the story a little more seriously.

When I read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, I thought it was a novel, but found out years later it was based (loosely) on one teen's real descent into madness.

The Gambino Crime Family said...

I think another poster already mentioned it but Frey also came across as this really annoying guy. And now that his tough guy act has been exposed for what it is - an act - there's nothing wrong with a little malicious glee.

kitty said...

The thing about memoirs written by addicts is that they should give other addicts hope that they, too, can kick their habits, which is why Oprah defended the swindler. "What is relevant is that he was a drug addict ... and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves."

Except we now learn that he's a FRAUD, which tells me that Oprah was really trying to save face. And just how is all this lying and saving face supposed to help addicts??

I remember Trudi Chase telling her story on TV. The abuse she suffered was so horrifying that after hearing it, I could never read the book.

Elektra said...

I know one man in particular who actually did sink to rock bottom with drugs. But, with a lot of help and work, he's overcome it and is now one of the nicest, most generous people I have ever known. For Frey to cheapen an experience like his for gain--to lie and say he went through what so many actually have had to go through--is to me what makes this whole thing so awful. In a way he trivialized the horror of a true drug addict.

lady t said...

At the online version of Publishers Weekly,Sara Nelson has written a column defending Frey(she admits that
she's met him in person)and saying
basically that memoirs tend to be a bit loose with the facts in order to entertain. I'm not surpised by her stance since Million Little Pieces was featured in her book,So Many Books,So Little Time(pre-Oprah). What did amaze
me was the very divided and diverse feedback given by the PW readers(even a VP of a major publisher chimed in)-maybe with this much talk brewing in the industry,something might be actually
done to prevent this from happening
again. Hey,I can dream,can't I?

E is for Editrix said...

I have to admit I was being a little tongue-in-cheek when I asked "What was so bad about what he did?" On an industry level, I totally get it. But part of me just wonders why we're so stuck on our truth being truth and our fiction being fiction...anyone who's ever shared a personal anecdote knows it's more like "a little from column A, a little from column B"...at least in my own head...

Anonymous said...

The irrepressible David Thayer (over on his blog at http://davidthayer.booksquare.com/)has noted Frey's defenders are now claiming that only 5 percent of the book was fiction--and that this leaves 950,000 little pieces.

Perhaps we need a new labeling standard. Can the FDA be far behind?

A.R.Yngve said...

It's like that scene in the film FEAR OF A BLACK HAT (the rap equivalent of "This Is Spinal Tap"), where the tough gangsta-rapper is "outed" as being an honors student from a nice middle-class neighborhood...

Jokes aside... I can see that people don't want to look like suckers.

But is this the first time a "true confession" memoir turns out to be made up? Nope. What's changed is that it's much harder not to be found out -- thanks to The Smoking Gun.

Anonymous said...

Hey, what's so bad about having one rotten tooth throbbing away in your pie hole? The other teeth are just fine, right?

I'm still mad at Frey for shamelessly exploiting the tragedy of the families who lost children in the train crash story he included. Using someone's all too real grief to further his pathetic ends is beyond disgusting. If the families could sue him I'd be in their cheering section.

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

It’s not easy to admit.

But, I AM a book snob.

If I see someone toting a novel with an Oprah Book Club sticker on it I automatically think "Emotional Tourist."

Here's someone who likes to co-opt other people's pain, toot around in misery, have a good cry, sigh and half a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream before they go to bed.

So part of me gets a chuckle seeing well adjusted suburbanites find out they were emotionally invested in a fake, paid money for it even.

The other part of me, the unpublished writer part, is all kinds of pissed (read: jealous, jealous, jealous).

AMLP is NOT well written

http://exile.ru/167/167101802.html

Frey got a free pass because of his outlandish story.

If I would have known we were having a BS contest I would have thrown my hat into the ring and given Frey a run for the considerable amount of money he is now wiping his butt with.