Global controversy over critically acclaimed, drug fuelled memoirs
A veritable fracas of controversy surrounds these remarkable ‘memoirs’. In them, James Frey recounts his time at a drug treatment centre at the tender age of twenty three, fighting a decade of alcoholism and three years as a crack addict. There is a love interest forbidden within the confines of the centre in the pale skinny Lilly, a fellow crack addict and prostitute since childhood. There are father figures reminiscent of gangster movies in the organised crime leader, Leonard, and equally in the black alcoholic judge, Miles, who are both patients themselves. James’ parents are affluent, loving, well to do. His counsellors are wry, sympathetic and intelligent. In short, A Million Little Pieces is packed with stereotypes and extremes.
This is part of the reason that it became such an instant success upon publication in 2003. Oprah Winfrey selected it for her monthly bookclub: surely the benchmark for an American bestseller. Amazon.com chose it as their favourite book of 2003. It appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for 44 weeks. And then, in 2006, the enormity of Frey’s success turned on him when the investigative website, Smoking Gun, revealed that large parts of these ‘memoirs’ were in fact fabricated. Frey refuted the claims, conned his publishers, and perhaps worst of all for the adoring American public, fooled Oprah live on television. From all-American hero, Frey became the repudiated criminal that he rather ironically professes to be in his book.
This was apparently a Very Big Deal for a lot of fans and a lot of Americans. Personally, I absolutely couldn’t care less. A Million Little Pieces is audacious, glitzy, offensive and addictive. Frey is inventive in style and substance, doing away with speech marks, reflecting compulsion in his mastery of the stream of consciousness technique and erratic train of thought that drip, unedited and unpunctuated, from every page. Through this unique ability to manipulate language Frey manages to convey with uncommon perfection the torments of addiction and the consuming obsessions of a ravaged mind. This is Hunter S. Thompson’s drugs-fuelled arrogance reborn for the eighties, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, whether Oprah likes it or not.