I’m only a decade behind the hype on this quite hefty rehabilitation story by James Frey. Which might be a good thing.
Several years after it was first published, its author came under fire for embellishing much of what happened within. Originally presented as a memoir, once this exaggeration came to light, James Frey became Public Enemy #1. Oprah had him on and everything, making him apologise to The World for his ethical misdemeanors.
Since I was aware of the controversy and everybody and their mum was going on about it, it was easy to shrug and let it slip by. But I saw it in The British Heart Foundation for £1.25 the other week and I figured now might be the time.
I am glad I picked it up. The copy I have contains a Foreword by Frey, apologising again for letting people down. I think it sounds sincere but I also think, what is the actual big deal?
I mean, yes I get that people have been through similar themselves, and to embellish what is already horrible and traumatic seems unnecessary but this is also a book. A book written for other people and a certain amount of artistic licence has be to be granted, non?
We begin with James waking up on a plane to Chicago, with a bloody face and next to no memory. We don’t know how he got here, all we know is that his parents are there to pick him up at the airport and without ceremony, they drop him on the doorstep of an unnamed Drug Rehabilitation Centre. They don’t actually dump him that callously, they walk him in and hand him over, but you see how easy it is to embellish for effect?
James is only 23 but he has already been an alcoholic – and more recently a crack head – for ten long years. He has fallen down a flight of stairs, lost his four front teeth and broken his nose; prompting swift action by his friends. Or the friends he still has.
I’ll let you dig in for yourselves, if you haven’t already, but James begins with the reticence you would expect. And boy, is this book orally fixated! There is a lot of vomit, a lot of blood and a particularly wincey dental scene, straight out of my own nightmares.
A sizable corner of the internet has criticised that it is so graphic but I don’t mind at all. Frey writes in an unstructured, hazy manner that suits this disgusting detail. It also make you feel like you are right there with him, rubbing his back and telling him it will all be okay, even though you might not believe it.
As with most books of this ilk, the real heart lies in the characterisation; in James and in the people he encounters along the way. Great humour is found in Leonard, James’ slightly sinister ‘father figure’, great tenderness in Miles, James’ gentle Federal Court Judge roommate and the lovely loving Lily with the troubled past. You want them all better, no matter what they have done and who they have hurt in their pasts.
I won’t tell you that James makes it or that there is a complete transformation at the end but I will say that you want him to. Or I did. I like James, I find him amusing and I agree with quite a lot he says, about religion in particular.
Luckily for me, Frey followed up Pieces with My Friend Leonard so I can keep some of my favourites going for a little longer. Perhaps not straight away though. I might need something fluffy next.
- Title: A Million Little Pieces
- Publisher: John Murray; New Ed edition (10 May 2004)
- ISBN-10: 0719561027
- ISBN-13: 978-0719561023
- Bought paperback (secondhand)