James Frey: liar and terrible writer

Chris Carmona

For the past two months, I’ve bought an abundance of produce for the sole reason that it can go bad and thus provide me with the opportunity to throw withered lettuce, rotten tomatoes, and snowballs with inconspicuously-inserted rocks at the skull of James Frey.

Before the New York Times informed me that he lied about a good portion of his “memoir,” I only intended on throwing produce. His best-selling book “A Million Little Pieces” climbed the National Paperback Bestsellers list like a bastard child of Dan Brown, and before either Barnes or Noble could stop him, the “memoir” overpopulated bookshelves, pushing the newly translated Kafka text into the back of the store, nudging “The Metamorphosis” in between Nicole Richie’s debut novel (in which she graces her own cover with a variety of collectible jackets: one dressed in a tutu (I kid you not) and one wearing a ballroom gown and a tiara) and the 2003 Princeton Review’s 331 best colleges.

And, like all bestsellers, Oprah eventually dipped her platinum-coated beak into the figurative fountain. And, like always, instead of drying up, the water tore through the concrete and became a literary reservoir. The fiction section of bookstores was cut into half so that Dan Brown and James Frey could pile their books onto fifty percent of the shelves. Oprah’s sticker gave Frey’s “memoir” an even higher vocal foreground in which to proclaim its brilliance. He was now part of a housewife’s book club that also somehow forced its way into the lives of Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison. Marquez, Morrison … Frey.

So, like all good sheep, I bought the book. After spending twelve hours peeling the Oprah sticker off of the cover, I dove right in, excited to learn of young Frey’s turbulent past in his highly acclaimed “memoir.” I think it was page negative one where I first threw up in my mouth.

Immediately, the prose reeked of a falseness that I originally attributed entirely to the voice of the “memoir.” He fragments sentences into phrases and tags unwanted run-ons in what I can only describe as a skeletal version of experimental writing, like some mentally-handicapped, neglected cousin of Bret Easton Ellis. Then, as if to imply that he’s so dumpster-chic in his existence that dialogue punctuation doesn’t exist in a crackhead’s life, he inorganically forces all dialogue to be its own line, sans punctuation, sans description and sans creativity. In a mundane attempt to make the voice consistent, he keeps up this charade throughout the entire “memoir.” Ironically, the text is actually dialogue heavy, so the result is page after page of what looks like blank verse poetry but is actually just a really bad “memoir.” The only advantage is that those who don’t read much get the feeling that they’re reading really quickly since there are only four words on every page.

And then there’s Frey himself. The character is supposed to be a rough-neck alcoholic/drug addict/criminal (I inferred this, since he only repeated “I am an alcoholic and a drug addict and a criminal” every third line) with a chip on his shoulder and a dark, deep-seated past. I actually began eating pages in hope of feeling some sort of compassion for his character, thinking that I was missing something from the text, but nothing came of it.

Being a jerk myself, I’ve always related to the introverted, misguided protagonists that grace our classic shelves (Fitzgerald’s Amory, Salinger’s Holden), but all I found myself wanting to do while reading this was locate Frey’s residence, sneak into his mansion-of-lies in the middle of the night, shove a crack pipe into his innocent mouth and light it.

The most redeeming character in the entire “memoir” is Lily, and she only earns attention through comparison. After being introduced to her and yawning, her return to the text was completely welcome. I found myself asking, “Did Lily get less boring?” Of course the answer is no. I just got more bored.

But I, too, suffer from addiction. I’m addicted to finishing a book. I cannot start one without reading the entire thing, and the result has been devoting my entire winter break to “Infinite Jest.” I have no idea how I muscled through “A Million Little Pieces,” but I did it. I gagged through horrible character development, an onslaught of clichés, sedating plot points and came to the book’s resolution.

Absent was the “resonance of redemption” that Oprah promised me would exist, and instead the only positive moment I was left with was the warm feeling of it all being over, like when you walk out of the dentist’s office and, despite how horrible the check-up went, you’re ecstatic, because you don’t have to go back for another six months.

During one of those celebrity-hungry shows on E! or VH1 that have .05 second flashes of camera shots whizzing in front of your eyes so quickly that your only options are being hypnotized or having a seizure, I heard that Lindsay Lohan’s version of the Koran is “My Friend Leonard,” Frey’s new “memoir.” This prompted me to remove his book from my shelf, rip out the pages that I didn’t already eat, chug two bottles of laxative and spend the rest of my afternoon on the toilet, pages in hand.

So when I read that much of Frey’s “memoir” was a lie, there was a certain feeling of joyless satisfaction that coursed through my body. I knew he would immediately undergo heavy scrutiny since journalists are generally well-read individuals who I can only hope hated the “memoir” also, and they pride themselves on the integrity of the truth (as long as it correlates with their political convictions). But I, like all of the readers, felt lied to. I hated the book, I hate James Frey and I hate that he altered the subject matter in order to get the book published and, as a result of his lies, became a famous, celebrated writer. So there was definitely a feeling of satisfaction at having him be labeled a literary fraud, but again, it was kind of joyless.

So I need some real revenge. I don’t care if Oprah scorched the man on national television, pecking at his wounded face with her platinum-coated beak, ravenously tearing his reputation apart in front of her dream-fulfilled audience.

I want my own revenge. I think that everyone should be able to write alleged interviews with James Frey, claiming that he said whatever the heck you want him to say, so that nothing he ever writes or says in the future will be trusted or listened to.

But I’m no journalist. I don’t write for some tabloid, so I really can’t exploit my own clever rule.

This is why I’m incredibly happy about the recent snow storm.

After I run out of produce, I need something to pad my rocks.