Friday, January 13, 2006

James Frey--criminal or liar?

The smoking gun has published an expose of the rather shabby lies of James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces." Frey doesn't even bother to deny his exaggerations, which mostly concern his boasts to being a big, bad criminal.

None of this matters except the book has been taken up by Oprah Winfrey, making Frey the equivelant of a literary rock star, and incidentally a millionaire.

I read and enjoyed "Million." Its raw power captivated me and swept me away, suspending incredulity. Frey can certainly write, when he wants to, and "Million" is a tour de force.

But his new book, "My Friend Leonard," casts doubt about its predecessor. I can believe six impossible things before breakfast, but I cannot believe in Leonard, as he is presented in the book; half racketeer, half saint, and 100 percent fairy godfather. Leonard has quasi-adopted young James, addressing him as "My Son," and granting his every wish. Need $30,000? Just ask Leonard. Want to get out of jail free? Leonard is your man. All difficulties are swept aside when Leonard is on the case.

"Friend" is a lame book. It outlines the career of James after leaving the rehab, with good old Leonard showing up once in a while to take James and all his friends out for a magnificent dinner, described in exhaustive detail. Almost every dinner is the same, featuring steak and creamed spinach mostly, and one wonders why these meals have to be cataloged so meticulously. Coudl it be that the author is just filling up space, padding his book to make it longer? Hmmm.

"Friend" is improbable from the get-go. Frey describes the prison he is sent to as a place for "violent and felonious offenders" who were always watched over by five to seven deputies." This hardly seemed possible to me--a three-month sentence to a prison for the highly dangerous? No way!

In hindsight, much of the material in "Million" is similarly incredible; the crack whore/saint Lilly, who reminds me of one of Dickens' soppier heroines; the incident where James leaves the rehab to rescue Lilly from a crack house and is re-admitted; Frey having several root canals without sedation; Frey being given a coat by a kindly bus driver; the crook Leonard conspiring with a judge to get James' sentence reduced. Take your pick.

I have to say I bought the whole package and now I feel swindled. But Frey joins a long list of serial liars who have penned memoirs, Lorenzo Carcatella and Frank McCourt among them. Their lack of veracity in no way deters their fans, who want to believe every word.

No comments: