You know the story: James Frey wrote a "memoir" A Million Little Pieces about his fantastic transformation from alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal into a relatively normal person in recovery. It turns out most of his most harrowing adventures were either gross exaggerations or just plain made up.
Worse still, he pissed off Oprah Winfrey who had picked his book as an Oprah Club selection and defended him several times until it he finally confessed to the lies.
What did we all learn: don't piss off Oprah.
The following is a portion of the transcript of the Oprah show where Oprah Winfrey interviewed James Frey's publisher
Oprah: We asked if you, your company, stood behind James's book as a work of non-fiction at the time [it was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick.] And they said, absolutely. And they were also asked if their legal department had checked out the book. And they said yes. So in a press release sent out for the book in 2004, by your company, the book was described as "brutally honest and an altering look at addiction." So how can you say that if you haven't checked it to be sure?
Oprah: It's not sad for me. It's embarrassing and disappointing for me.
Oprah: Well, this is my point,
Oprah: That needs to change.
Oprah: You can if you call it a memoir. You can make up stories and call them novels. People have done it for years.
Oprah: So did I.
A lot of bloggers have mentioned this story because a lot of bloggers dream of selling a memoir of their own one day. I am actually one of those dreamers. I don't think I will be writing a "memoir" or an "autobiography" because, frankly, I haven't lived through the kind of surreal existence that would make for interesting reading.
Neither, apparently, did James Frey.
Jocelyn of The Smussyolay, however, seems to have that very type of story to tell. Okay, maybe not the over-the-top "root canal without Novocain" way, but I'm sure it will have parts which will be exceptional – which is why I want to read it!
I would hate to think that publishers would scurry away from the "moving, inspirational memoir" genre (such that it is) based on this one literary confidence man.
Memoir or autobiography or "based on a sorta made up story," James Frey is a putz but he doesn't strike me as a sociopath or a criminal genius. He lied and he had to keep telling lies to cover his first series of lies and, as always happens, the truth came out. I feel a little sorry for the guy but he deserves a heaping helping of ridicule.
I will tip my hat to him for going back on Oprah's show and taking his beating. I was going to type "like a man" and then I felt a twinge of political correctness creep into my brief editing process and removed it. Then I remembered that his publisher, who is a chick, looks like the worst kind or corporate weasel. I don't think that the reaction is gender based; it's probably liability based (and while he is a freelancer, she probably wants to keep her job so I guess I'm not going to blame her either).
This post won't have the satisfying "wrapped up like a bow" ending for which I strive. I don't really know how to feel about the million little lies.
My wife Kelli's response was "what's the big deal? If it was a good book, then isn't it still a good book?" And in that, she is correct. Time Magazine staff writer Joel Stein said much the same thing:
"It's wrong and immoral to pass off a piece of fiction as a memoir, and I wouldn't do it.
"You know, I felt like he was a liar and a weasel. But the more I thought about it, I still loved the book. When I found out a lot of it had been made up, it didn't really change how I felt about the text. But it certainly changed how I felt about the author."
So, kind reader, do me a favor. If you haven't bought A Million Little Pieces, please don't. Instead buy a book by David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs or John Cowart or even Danielle Steel.
Or tuck those couple bucks away for when the Smussyolay book comes out. You'll want to buy that one, I'm certain.