Apparently, James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, the "memoir" famous for being a steaming pile of bullshit, is going back on Oprah to promote his new book.
If I sound a little bristly, it's because I think this guy is a fucking scam artist. But I'm apparently in the minority. If you go to CNN's entertainment blog, The Marquee Blog, you'll find a story about Jame's Frey's return to the Oprah show and lots of comments from readers who feel that it was Oprah, and not James Frey, in the wrong during his first appearance on the show. I feel it is my job, nay, my divine duty, to call it like I sees it and tackle one of these comments, a statement that hits every single one of my "Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me!" buttons.
Jan writes: whether the book was completely true or not, it was a compelling read. very intense. and it told a good story and demonstrated a good lesson. i bought several of them for addicts and they truly appreciated the books even if they were not 100% true. i don't know about his new book but i always felt that oprah went overboard in taking him to task on her show the way she did. it was pretty tough to watch. he did what he did, with the help and advice of very knowledgeable people in the business. i think he was more of a dupe that she was
What this comment tells me, Jan, is that you don't give a shit about truth or integrity, just as long as you're entertained. It doesn't matter if the book was appreciated by people struggling with addiction. It was a lie. And it was no one's fault but his own.
This is a sentiment that got thrown around a lot when the controversy first hit the news. a call-in on Larry King's show, Oprah herself blamed his publisher for the book being, well, full of lies and half-truths, saying it was the publisher's job to verify the facts. Of course, she changed her tune later, but it apparently stuck in the minds of a lot of readers, like Jan there, who feel that Frey was simply the sweet, unwitting pawn of an evil publisher.
I've got some experience in the publishing industry. Not in memoirs, mind you, but I do have eight fiction novels in print and five novellas in e-book format, and I'm currently working as an editor for a publishing house that will go unnamed for professional reasons. Whenever I have signed a contract, there's been this little section in it that says something to the effect of, "this is all my work, and if I'm lying it's totally on me." I would bet that James Frey signed a contract with a similar clause in it, something like, "If I'm lying and exploiting dead people for my own gain, it's nobody's fault but my own." And when I'm editing a book, I don't feel like the onus is on me to make sure that every historical fact the author includes is accurate. I assume they know what they're talking about, and I don't get paid enough or have the time to research how people cleaned their teeth in Victorian Britain. If the facts turn out to be inaccurate and readers complain, they're holding the author responsible. Blaming the publisher for James Frey's lies is like a five-year-old blaming his mom for his lies. "Yes, I lied, but you listened to me lying. Really, you're the one at fault."
Let's go back to that that "exploiting dead people for my own gain" thing. James Frey writes in A Million Little Pieces about a tragic car accident that caused the death of his only friend in high school. Of course, this turned out to be all lies, except for the part about the car/train accident that actually happened, and the girl's surviving family objected strongly to her portrayal and the inclusion of her death in the book, saying that she and Frey didn't know each other, were not friends, and that Frey was not involved in the accident or the aftermath in any way.
Now let's hop back to the statement that a lot of readers make: "It doesn't matter if it was fake, it helped my friend/my husband/my dad/my whoever, because they're an addict."
Drug addiction is a difficult dragon to slay. I've had my own problems with addiction in the past. You know what would have definitely not helped me during those times? Finding out that the thing that had inspired me to seek recovery was actually a gigantic, steaming pile of horseshit and failure. But setting that aside, whenever anyone says that James Frey's lies are admissible because they "helped people," what they're saying is, "I don't care about the emotional pain and stress this douchebag money grabber caused this dead teenager's family. Yes, they're real people, who have a real vested interest in this farce, but I choose to ignore that in order to still feel good about this wannabe hardass who goes on national tv with his big, sad eyes and cries about how life was so hard being a white suburban teen in the midwest."
Leaving aside his lies, which included turning a five-hour stay in jail into the life of a hardened criminal (a word he capitalized throughout the book, to really drive home what a hard-ass he is), there's the fact that he's created a sweatshop for people who want to write but don't want to make a living from it. You can read about that here .
So what we have here is a guy who lies, won't admit he's lying in the face of overwhelming evidence, exploits dead teenagers and living writers, and there are still people out there defending this curly haired fuck?
What kind of a world do we live in, that this guy is able to continue making a living and go out in public without everyone throwing rotten garbage at him? Is he not the definition of a super villain? James Frey is like Lex Luthor with half the brain, and we're funding his career by buying his books? Fantastic, this is exactly the world I want to be living in. Fuck integrity and honesty, as long as we're entertained.
"Are you not entertained?"
And now people are wondering if Oprah will apologize for her behavior during his last appearance on her show. Why should she? She read this guy's book, she believed it and trusted that he was telling the truth. Of course she believed him, he ran all over hell and high-water, telling everyone who would listen that his book was 100% fact and he is now and forever shall be the hardest motherfucker with the biggest balls ever, an ex-con so tough he survived a root canal with no anesthesia at the hands of a Nazi dentist and also he's Superman and he kicked his addiction to every drug ever while simultaneously rescuing babies and kittens from a burning meth house, and then he drove a bulldozer into a police car and stood in the middle of the street with his arms wide open, receiving their hate like Ed Norton in American History X only not a white supremacist. Only after he was caught did he start to offer up excuses for his lies, like he was Obi-wan telling Luke that the entire "hit a police car and faced an eight year prison sentence for felony mayhem" thing he told him about was true "from a certain point of view."
Stop defending this asshole, everybody. Seriously. Stop defending him, stop proselytizing about the power of A Million Little Pieces to heal even the most hardened of drug users. Stop insisting that James Frey was the victim while he continues to victimize others. And stop demanding that Oprah apologize. The person who needs to apologize is James Frey, but that's too much to hope for, so long as we continually reward whoever steals the title of "Most Audacious Liar".