A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Having only a cursory knowledge of the scandal surrounding this book (I don't watch Oprah), I read it simply because I've been meaning to, and as far as I possibly could, without prejudice.
I don't get the hoopla - that surrounded the book in the first place as a memoir, or that surrounded it later, as a lie.
Since it was impossible to read with the assumption that it was true memoir, I tried reading it as fiction. Nope, that didn't work. As embellished memoir? Still not so fantastic, and I was, regardless of how hard I tried not to be, preoccupied with trying to figure out what was real and what was bullshit. And it didn't help that the book felt less about vulnerability and surrender and more about bravado and ego.
The bravado? Probably bullshit, especially with the author's note in my 2006 version admitting that he was not quite as tough as he portrayed himself to be, but the ego? The ego must be 100% real, or else Frey would never have even attempted to pass this off as non-fiction. Only a complete megalomaniac (and pathological liar) would do such a thing. But if there's one thing I believed, it was that Frey was a narcissist and a megalomaniac. The psychology here is just too rich to figure out, and Frey never really even tries to - not in his account of addiction, and not in his brief, vague account of being a fraud.
Ok, but even if I forget about the why and the what of the truth to the narrative, the writing didn't really grasp me. The style, though I appreciated it casualness, was indulgent. Repeating the same phrase or thought over and over (and over) again is powerful the first few times it is used, but here it feels like a storytelling crutch. There are other ways to portray deep emotion. Same goes with the Random Capitalization that appears throughout the book. My guess is that it is supposed to make the story feel Real and Spontaneous and Authentic, but it gets Annoying quickly. And in the end, it felt as false, forced and fraudulent as some of the so-called facts of the story - in the end, the random capitalization felt like a tell. The passages devoid of the literary tick were much more genuine and powerful than those of The Random Caps, and I began to suspect it's because when he truly was writing from experience and from the heart, he didn't bother with the affectations - he just wrote. I wish there was more of that, and I wish that Frey had not fucked himself, and his reader, over.
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