The James Frey Conundrum

As I’m sure all of you know by now, yesterday The Smoking Gun published a 6 page expose on James Frey’s book, A Million Little Pieces. Basically, the piece claims that after exhaustive research, they could find no corroborating evidence for much of the criminal activity Frey claims in his books to have engaged in. The evidence they did claim to find, however, shows that instead of being the “badboy” as he portrayed himself in the books (hitting a cop with a car, trying to incite people to riot, being investigated by the FBI, etc), he’s more of a pampered rich-kid frat-boy who made good by selling Oprah Winfrey and millions of readers a fabrication. As a writer myself, this is a HUGE fucking story. Not only because James Frey has been a supporter of my own publishing efforts, but also because if these claims made by the Smoking Gun turn out to be true, then there are going to be many angry people that bought into Frey’s world, not only monetarily–by purchasing his work, but also emotionally. If it turns out that the claims are true, then are the book and its writer as impactful as people once thought? Is the book worthy enough to stand on its own merit if it turns out that James Frey wasn’t insolent and confrontational, that he didn’t spend much time at all behind bars? Do these claims call in to question everything he has written? Personally, I don’t believe that this “bombshell” on Smoking Gun is nearly as big as the purveyors of that tabloid are trying to make it. At worst, Frey was taking literary license with his story, enhancing a scene here and there to give it more weight. Instead of being picked up for a DUI and blowing a 2.1, he writes that he was picked up for a DUI and blew a 3.6 or something close to it, which he claimed in the book was a county record.

But regardless of whether or not this is appropriate for someone writing and selling a book as a non-fiction title, what worries me more is that this story, coupled with the fact that also yesterday literary wunderkind and Hollywood darling JT Leroy was unmasked as a complete fabrication (his personal appearances were made under the guise of an effeminite boy who was so shy he always wore a blond wig, lipstick and sunglasses), could quite possibly put a stain on every book in the genre. My novel is based largely on things that really happened to either me or people I have known. Many readers have asked me why I didn’t want to sell futureproof as a memoir and my answer was always two-fold: I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into only writing things that actually happened to me and I didn’t want to have to adhere to the absolute truth. It’s as fucking simple as that. Now that JT’s novels have been exposed as having been written by a 40-year-old woman and James Frey is under fire for ratcheting up his tales of wantonness and depravity, it makes me wonder if there is any “reality” that is really just that. Is Milli Vanilli lip-synching worse than this? Is this along the lines of Vanilla Ice claiming the hood when he grew up many miles from anything even half-way resembling a ghetto? I don’t know. I suppose it will vary from one person to the next, how they percieve these things. James’ books are still inspirational and uplifting. Milli Vanilli songs are still played at weddings. Vanilla Ice pretty much always sucked ass. So there’s that. But the point is, when one goes into something believing one thing, and loves Milli Vanilli for not just the songs but also the image of two dreadlocked dudes singing deep-voiced disco love songs, do the songs lose all merit when you find out that the chick on the other end of the line breathing all hot and heavy is really a fat housewife like in that one Aerosmith video?

James Frey has always been good to me. He showed interest in my book and thought it looked promising when no one else in the publishing industry could give two shits about it. And now, while futureproof is getting more and more support behind it on a daily basis, James is on the ass-end of a fire-storm. To me, his books are just as good as they were before the Smoking Gun got a hair up their asses. But it’s times like these when I start getting a little heady, start realizing that I may just be the only real motherfucker out here, writing books for all us sinners. ‘Cause I didn’t have shit growing up, only was able to attend college because I got a scholarship, and was actually in a treatment center for seven months due to my drug addictions. And I believe James when he said he was, too. I just wish he would have sold his book as fiction, because then everyone could just enjoy his books without having to deal with the semantic, fine-line bullshit about where creative license ends and intentionally misleading people to make a buck begins. As James said not so long ago in an interview, “If it were my choice, it (AMLP) would be listed as literature. It doesn’t really matter though. What matters is how many people read it and how it affects them.” And he was right. At that point, it didn’t matter. He wasn’t an Oprah pick, nobody was going to take the time and effort to fact-check all the claims in his books. But with great fame and lots of money comes trouble, as Notorious B.I.G. once said in a video, “Like my man Puff say, Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” I think the biggest problem here is that instead of leaving a gray area, letting the book speak for itself, James gave answers to every question he was asked about the details of his books. When you’re courting fame on a level this big, sometimes it’s better to not say anything at all.

But still, where is the line between trying to find the truth about something and trying to wreck someone’s career drawn? For the life of me I do NOT understand why anyone would be trying to bring this man down. He’s so personable and open with everyone he meets. It’s a total fucking shame this is happening to him.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The James Frey Conundrum

  1. girlgrey

    calmly: dislocation from what? community? god? themselves?
    if dislocation is the cause of addiction, which, i could see that, then what is the cause of depression?

    in general, as for frey, look up the definition of memoir in the dictionary. here, i’ll do it for you all: “a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them AND BASED ON PERSONAL OBSERVATION.” i just think, as i said before, too many panties in too many bunches over nothing. but hey, maybe it all worked to frey’s advantage, since he handled it so well. my friend leonard is number one now. so, as nf daniels would say, at least there’s that.

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