A Million Little Pieces
by James Frey

I don’t know what influenced me to prioritize this amidst a sea of books and e-books that are in my reading list (give or take, the approximate number of books that wait to be read is 2,000). Perhaps it was inspired by that moment when an acquaintance tells me a story of accidentally finding a stash in the closet of a very unlikely person, but I wouldn’t know if that was true because I don’t really know that person and what it was kept for. For a barbaric and gripping memoir, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is a pretty interesting book on the grotesque realities of undergoing 6 weeks in rehab.

Further reading online, however, unveiled to me that this claimed memoir has a bunch of fabrications that even led to a very publicized controversy in The Oprah Winfrey Show.  The inconsistencies in the facts were reviewed thoroughly in an article by The Smoking Gun, and the authors of the article literally explored through the past criminal records of James Frey to validate his claims in the memoir. Time later published an article (but this was first seen on Vanity Fair) that Winfrey apologized to Frey for the outburst that ensued on national TV because of how she felt duped by the creative fabrications. For all it’s worth, I like the originality of Frey; he should have just packaged it as fiction.

Controversy or no controversy, I believe that the book is still worth reading to a certain extent. It may have been wrongly packaged as a memoir instead of the fiction book that it really is, but it remained compelling enough and made for a really good story. Hits the reader at the sweet spots. The staccato-styled writing is a welcome deviation from the under-punctuated reads I’ve perused the last few weeks.I don’t have a lot of quotable quotes that impressed me beyond words, but it’s the nature of the story and flow that made me stick to it until the very last page.

Personally, I treat memoirs a bit like fiction because I know that it’s hard to rely on a single or a group of person’s collective memories of an event. My basic History class in college made sure that I appreciate personal accounts but not to trust them with the veracity ascribed to a history book. Even among history books, there are outright biases that outline the achievements of certain heroes and downplay the others. It’s a good story; the lies are not good, but it’s not something that will spoil my impression of Frey as a writer. He is really meant to write in only the way that he can.

Probably, if I read The Smoking Gun’s blasting article of Frey’s credibility before reading the book, it would have affected my reading experience a little considering how inspired I got the last few nights that I was reading it. But I think I will still enjoy reading it for its brutal and fearless style if not for its accuracy.

In my work or practice, we capitalize on accuracy. In books I read for fun, I think I can certainly take some liberties especially if a story is that well-written.

I have never tried drugs and I will never know what it’s like. I’ve never been jailed and I wouldn’t know what a few hours or months in jail feels like. And this book offered me some insights, although if I wanted the brutal truth, I only need to find the nearby incarceration unit. But I wanted to read a good book, and this was what was given for me to read at this time. If I may be able to say it, I even enjoyed this book a little more than I enjoyed Maya Angelou’s more accurate memoir of herself which I read two years ago.

I even found it interesting to note how colorful Frey’s imagination is and how it makes for a good fiction writer. He’s not a literary god, and his books might not be as good as Kundera’s, but that’s fine and I am still happily optimistic after reading the book. I guess that’s what matters more. After this controversy, he had been most careful to write more fiction explicitly classified as fiction on the cover and he even managed to get a second chance with the first novel he wrote about Los Angeles.

It’s good that I enjoyed the book before I found out about the rest of the details. I guess in a way, not knowing all the technical terms in a work of prose and not knowing everything is a nice way to keep an open mind while reading a book. You can just verify the facts after reading and enjoy the book in its entirety first before having a biased view of it because of other people’s reviews. Some people just get so consumed by the technical details of a book that they fail to just ENJOY the reading experience.

On a personal level, my admiration of him as a person has lessened a little when I think at how it’s hard to sift the truth from the lies embedded in the book. While I think I’ll consider reading other Frey books in addition to the 2,000+ in my reading list, I still think the saints of Heaven are more inspirational than this “Hold on.” philosophy he upheld which was placed in a fictional context. I like the piece of writing and the characters he wrote in it but I don’t necessarily like the person who wrote it. And I’m absolutely fine with that. 🙂 I also think I’ll be absolutely fine with people who like what I write but don’t like me as a person (or vice versa), because what I write and who I am are two different things although somehow related.

I am sure Frey had a million little pieces of things to fix after this highly controversial book, just like the rest of us who makes mistakes without the misfortune of being publicly called out on them. For all the million little lies, there are still a million little pieces of things to smile about when reading this book and possibly other James Frey fiction books.

And like Lilly’s deep sea blue eyes (Frey’s possibly fictional girlfriend in rehab), I think there’s an ocean of possibilities that comes in your head after reading a book such as this one.