Tuesday, January 10, 2006

when a memoir belongs in the 'fiction' category

James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces," had his book featured as the most recent pick for Oprah's Book Club. The memoir of Frey's time in rehab still sits on top of the NY Times' paperback nonfiction best-seller list. Frey has claimed that everything in his book is accurate, but this has come under dispute by the managers of The Smoking Gun. Frey has fired back at these accusations through his site.

UPDATE: Frey will be on Larry King's show tonight. We know that Mr. King will furiously grill Frey over these allegations...

UPDATE 2: Oh no, he didn't con The Oprah, did he?

UPDATE 3: The transcript of the interview between Larry King and Frey can be found here. I didn't see the interview, but I read the transcript. Frey acknowledged several times that "things were changed," and he hasn't been in touch with Harpo Productions (Oprah's company) producers since the controversy began. He reminds Larry that the book is mostly about his time in a treatment center and how he wrestled with his substance abuse.

Frey said, "I still feel very, very comfortable calling it a memoir." Don't you feel better knowing that he is comfortable with his own book?

Frey also said several times that a small portion of the book is in dispute. But why make any embellishments or changes if they don't contribute to the main theme of the book, which is telling the story of his time in substance abuse treatment? Why make it sound like he committed more criminal acts than he did?

Near the end of the program, The Oprah herself called the show (as if this was such a surprise to Larry and his producers) and said this:

I wanted to say because everyone's been asking me to release a statement. I first wanted to hear what James had to say and I didn't want to have that colored by any personal conversation that I had. As he said, he's had many conversations with my producers, who do fully support him and obviously we support the book because we recognize that there have been thousands and hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been changed by this book. So the truth is this. I read and recommend books based on my connection with the written word and its message. And, of course, I am disappointed by this controversy surrounding "A Million Little Pieces," because I rely on the publishers to define the category that a book falls within and also the authenticity of the work. So, I'm just like everybody else. I go to the bookstore. I pick out a book I love. If it says memoir, I know that -- that maybe the names and dates and the times have been compressed, because that's what a memoir is. And I feel about "A Million Little Pieces" that although some of the facts have been questioned -- and people have a right to question, because we live in a country that lets you do that, that the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book and will continue to read this book. And, you know, one of the things James says in the book, for all the people who are going through any kind of addiction, is to hold on. And I just wanted to -- you know, I have been calling this number and it's been busy, trying to get through to say to all those people out there who have received hope from reading this book, keep holding on, because the essence of that, I don't doubt. Whether or not the cars' wheels rolled up on the sidewalk or whether he hit the police officer or didn't hit the police officer is irrelevant to me. What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil, from the time he was 10 years old, drinking and -- and tormenting himself and his parents. And, out of that, stepped out of that history to be the man that he is today, and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves. That's what's important about this book and his story.

So, Oprah thinks that the details of Frey's story aren't all that important. The important thing is that he wrote about his substance abuse, and now many people are being helped by it. Interesting... he's truthful about his substance abuse, so it doesn't matter if he's not ENTIRELY truthful about the other stuff; the actual truth doesn't matter, the emotional truth (whatever that means) does - I guess this is what she's saying.

The Associated Press has more, including reactions from authors Nicholas Cristopher and Mary Karr ("The Liar's Club").

UPDATE 4: Amba live-blogs Frey on Larry King. Best line (when King presses Frey's mother about Frey possibly resuming his drug abuse because of the controversy): "This is disgusting. I'm ashamed to be documenting it. Larry King is such a hyena."

The snarky review by the NY Times nearly 3 years ago.

Susan S. Reynolds writes on how this may change the way we look at memoirs. Wow, you think??

Seth Greenland finds a hero in Frey. Seth figured that his life was too dull to write a memoir, but now he knows what to do: "Because of my vast lack of experience, I had concluded the memoir genre is not for me. It is for this reason I wrote a novel. At least there you're allowed to make things up. But now that I know you can write a memoir the same way, I'm reconsidering."

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