A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
As you know, my boyfriend is the non-fiction fan/reader/book collector and I handle the fiction side of things. Although he hasn’t read the book, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces sits atop one of his shelves. I’ve opened, flipped through it, and even looked at the back cover a few times . . . but I’ve never read a single page. Well, during a recent bookstore browse I saw the audio book on clearance and convinced myself to cough up an astounding $4!
So somewhere in between assisting my mother with various things (as I prepare for her arrival), completing 20-page papers for my semester finale, and driving to handle a few business matters (seriously) with my boyfriend in Houston, I’ve had time to listen to Frey’s “memoir” in my car. First of all, let me say that Oliver Wyman is a damn good reader. My mother listens to audio books more than I do and we’ve joked about people having dry reading voices. Wyman is not one of those people. He does a variety of character voices, gets crazy, yells, mumbles–he’s good. Now, maybe it’s the fact that the story that he’s reading requires such attention to vocal details in order to really capture the energy. I don’t know. But this semester my creative writing professor was on our tails about recalling the imagery/visuals that words/sounds present us with. A Million Little Pieces does a helluva job capturing your attention with that exact thing.
I was originally intrigued by this book because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations with other book lovers and just so happened to get into a discussion of Frey’s Oprah fiasco. After listening to 2 out of 8 discs, I decided to do a little research of my own to find out the details of what Frey fabricated:
I altered events and details all the way through the book. Some of those include my role in a train accident that killed a girl from my school. While I was not, in real-life, directly involved in the accident, I was profoundly affected by it. Others involved jail time I served, which in the book is three months, but which in reality was only several hours, and certain criminal events, including an arrest in Ohio, which was embellished. There has been much discussion, and dispute, about a scene in the book involving a root-canal procedure that takes place without anesthesia. I wrote that passage from memory, and have medical records that seem to support it. My account has been questioned by the treatment facility, and they believe my memory may be flawed. In addition, names and identifying characteristics of all the treatment patients in the book and all of the facility’s employees, characteristics including occupations, ages, places of residence, and places and means of death, were changed to protect the anonymity of those involved in this period in my life. This was done in the spirit of respecting every individual’s anonymity, which is something we were urged to do while in treatment, and to continue to do after we left.
I made other alterations in my portrayal of myself, most of which portrayed me in ways that made me tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am [NaySue: see I thought those parts sounded especially fake — lol]. People cope with adversity in many different ways, ways that are deeply personal. I think one way people cope is by developing a skewed perception of themselves that allows them to overcome and do things they thought they couldn’t do before. My mistake, and it is one I deeply regret, is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience. (Read the complete author’s note . . .)
James Frey’s thoughts on Oprah and other things:
And of course the book excerpt:
I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I’m in the back of a plane and there’s no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood. I reach for the call button and I find it and I push it and I wait and thirty seconds later an Attendant arrives.
How can I help you?
Where am I going?
You don’t know?
You’re going to Chicago, Sir.
How did I get here?
A Doctor and two men brought you on.
They say anything?
They talked to the Captain, Sir. We were told to let you sleep.
How long till we land?
About twenty minutes.
Although I never look up, I know she smiles and feels sorry for me. She shouldn’t.
What I didn’t know about this story is that The Smoking Gun folks were the ones who exposed Frey. During their search for mugshots, they found out they needed to dig a little deeper for more information on a few cracks in Frey’s story.
Frey says he never expected the book to be this successful—had it not been, maybe nobody would have ever found out or cared about whether he told the truth. Maybe . . .
Happy reading ya’ll.