Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Review: A Million Little Pieces

As I've said a few times before, I love memoirs. But how should I feel about what is apparently an over-embellished memoir, with some episodes that just plain didn't happen?

Such was my state of mind when I began reading James Frey's controverisal 2003 A Million Little Pieces. I knew going into this that Frey went from Oprah's reading list (and thus, The New York Times Bestseller List) to The Smoking Gun's hit list in a matter of months. Apparently, a whole lot of James Frey's memoir didn't really happen the way he said it did.

But I liked it anyway. OK, this is not really a book you like. This is a hard book to read. Frey's mantra is: "I am an alcoholic, a drug addict, and a criminal." According to Frey, his drinking started at age 7, when he drank the dregs of wine glasses at his parents' parties, and escalated to pretty much constant alcohol and drug use by age 14. When the memoir begins he is 23 and about a day away from death, and on his way to an expensive rehab facility.

This is an ugly book because the subject matter is ugly. Even if Frey made up half the things in the book, he still lived a horrible existence. It is unfortunate that he felt the need to spice up his already hideous life by fabricating certain details; he really didn't have to do that. His writing is powerful, lyrical in its candid simplicity:
I want a drink. I want fifty drinks. I want a bottle of the purest, strongest, most destructive, most poisonous alcohol on Earth. I want fifty bottles of it. I want crack, dirty and yellow and filled with formaldehyde. I want a pile of powder meth, five hundred hits of acid, a garbage bag filled with mushrooms, a tube of glue bigger than a truck, a pool of gas large enough to drown in. I want something anything whatever however as much as I can.

I'm sorry that Frey didn't have the confidence and foresight to be totally honest in his writing. I hope he keeps writing, and I hope he has learned that he has enough talent himself without resorting to tale twisting.

I think I would recommend this book. It is not a pretty book in any form or fashion; in fact, the reader should be prepared for several graphic scenes and endless bad language. You certainly won't feel uplifted and happy after reading the book, but still: the raw emotions in Frey's writing maybe balance out the rest.


Overeducated Twit said...

I read this book during a semester when the bulk of my reading was 19th century novels for graduate seminars--perhaps it was the radical difference between the assigned reading and the voluntary, but I really enjoyed it. I also went into it with an expectation that apparently many disgruntled Oprah groupies didn't--no memoir will be absolute truth. The impulse to self-aggrandize, whether conscious or not, will be difficult to quell when writing about one's own self...

Tracee said...

I have this book on my shelf, and this review makes me want to read it. Thanks!