(this post by Non-MGK author Dan Solomon)
Hey, you know who’s still a douchebag? That James Frey asshole who wrote A Milion Little Pieces.
I read a Vanity Fair article about the guy a month or two ago and thought, you know, maybe he’s not so bad, he probably deserves a second chance. And then I opened this week’s issue of TimeOut London and saw that there was an interview with him in the books section, read it, and had confirmed for me- yup, still a douchebag. But don’t take my word for it- take it away, Frey-guy:
"no book has ever been investigated or picked apart the way mine has, before or since."
No book? Ever? People investigated your book more than they did The Bell Curve, or The Population Bomb, or Holy Blood, Holy Grail? Or, I dunno, fucking Mein Kampf? I know that his point is that most memoirs don’t get the same sort of scrutiny that his did, but the way he talks about it makes it look like he thinks he’s the most specialist writer in the whole world who just got picked on so unfairly.
"if you look at memoirs in general, any one of them that’s readable is going to have the same issues that mine had."
Well, not exactly. When Frey started publishing, he tried to pick a literary fight with Dave Eggers, so let’s compare A Million Little Pieces and A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius. Okay, A-1, Eggers’ book’s central concept, that a twenty-something kid had to suddenly raise his little brother after the deaths of both of his parents, is true. Frey’s book’s concept, that he got so fucked up on drugs that he ended up in jail and then met a bunch of strange characters in rehab, including a girlfriend who killed herself, is untrue. So no, any readable memoir can exist without wholesale fabrication of the events of the author’s life. Furthermore, Eggers (who isn’t the first author to do this) included in the paperback edition of the book a full appendix of errata, explaining where the facts of reality differ from those of the book. Voila, even Frey’s literary nemesis was able to write a memoir without those "issues".
"A Million Little Pieces was written as a novel, and its intentions were all literary, all artistic. It was meant to be an insult to self-help books, and somewhere along the line it became one, and I was really uncomfortable with that. I was like, this is me spitting on self-help books… I got put on this pedestal as a recover and addiction superhero, and that was not at all what I wanted… I don’t want to be a guy on TV talking about addiction. Fuck that."
The incredibly douchey thing about this statement is that it makes it seem like all of that shit was just stuff that happened to him, rather than things he actively sought to do. He didn’t get ambushed by Oprah in the middle of the night and forced to appear on the show to talk about addiction and recovery; he didn’t have to turn his book into a brand for a certain school of self-help; he jumped on that pedestal the second it was offered to him. Which is telling, because addicts who haven’t taken any responsibility for their addiction do the exact same thing. Claiming that all of the things that happened to you just happened, as opposed to being stuff you did, is a telltale sign of an unrecovered addict. Which is pretty funny, considering who it’s coming from.
"most of the writers I love were notorious writers: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hemingway, Celine, Bret Easton Ellis, Mailer…"
Yeah, but guess what those guys are notorious for? Hint: it’s not lying to Oprah. I get that the guy needs to tell himself that he’s some rebel outlaw, but be real- do you think Celine would have ever taken the Oprah’s Book Club stamp on the cover of Death On The Installment Plan? Mailer wasn’t "notorious" because he fabricated events and got caught- shit, Mailer was steadfast in his dedication to keeping fact and fiction distinct. He didn’t try to pass off The Armies of the Night as straight non-fiction, and he was happy to call The Executioner’s Song and Harlot’s Ghost and Marilyn novels. Trying to pass yourself off as an heir to that when the very thing you’re notorious for flies in the face of what he was all about? Douchey, douchey, douchey.
"one of the joys of this being classified as a novel is that none of it has to be accurate or real, and if people want it to be, they can fuck off… I saw the book being discussed on ‘Newsnight Review’ and one of the guys was like ‘well, this information better be real, I feel like he’s conning us again,’ and I’m like, ‘you fucking dumbass. It’s a fucking novel. None of it has to be real.’ Frankly, he reacted just the way I hoped."
This is in response to a question about his new book being full of facts and history that are totally made-up. And yes, he’s technically correct, a novel does not have to have any true things in it if the author doesn’t want it to. But check it out- if you’re making up the history of Los Angeles and the facts about the city, then you’re not writing about Los Angeles. You’re writing about a made-up place that exists in your imagination. You might as well be writing about Metropolis. If you have to reimagine the place in order for it to fit into your novel, then your novel is not actually about LA.
And the douchiest thing in the interview? It comes as a response to a question about whether he wished he’d been more emphatic about how A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard were meant to be classified.
"there were mistakes made, sure."
For a writer who’s not really known for using the passive voice, this is a pretty unique statement. Mistakes were made? Who made them, James? You know, what’s funny about this is the whole construction of the sentence is pretty familiar. Pretty much any time someone fucks up and doesn’t want to admit that it was their fuck-up, they’ll dip into the passive voice for a response like that. Check out the number of Bush administration dickheads who used it to explain the Iraq War, the attorney firing scandal, civilian bombings in Afghanistan, etc- General Richards, Richard Perle, Alberto Gonzales, George W Bush himself, and even John McCain– and you’ll see how powerful a linguistic device it is for people who want to avoid admitting that they fucked up.
So in a single-page interview, Frey manages to avoid admitting responsibility for the lies in his books, treat himself as a victim for having appeared on Oprah, complain about all the unfair scrutiny his made-up memoir received, argue that everybody else does it, so who cares, equate himself with Norman Mailer because he got famous for something that violated one of the main principles of Mailer’s writing, and giggle about the dumbasses who expect that a novel that’s set in Los Angeles be about the real LA and not the Narnia-LA that the author needed to create for the narrative to work. So, yeah- in case you were wondering, James Frey is still a douchebag.