January 10, 2006

I Could Do Hard Time for This One, Baby! AND Community Service...

By now I imagine most people have seen the Smoking Gun exposé on James Frey and his fake memoir A Million Little Pieces. I'm enjoying it as much as everybody else, of course, particularly as it presents an occasion to produce parodies of his wooden, terse (and yet somehow still overblown) prose style. Here's my contribution:

"I stared at the Floor. She stared at the Floor. We both stared at the Floor. There it was, the Floor that both of us were fucking staring at. What the hell. A Floor is a Floor when you get right down to it. Fucking Floor..."

"We were in discussions after we Sold it as to whether to publish It as fiction or as Nonfiction," he told the New York Times. It was a Tough Call. As it turned out, they guessed Wrong.

Anyhow, all that theatrical "I'm your worst nightmare - the guy your parents warned you about!" stuff was obviously fake, and everyone pretty much knew it all along. But the details about the degree to which it was fake are priceless. He wasn't Public Enemy #1. He was your basic, ordinary, frat boy. He never spent any time in jail or anything like that. Just a few hours in a police station. And there was a small fine. He was just a meek, timid, rather well-behaved nobody like the rest of us. But people tattooed his catch phrase on their bodies, an audience of millions wept, and he gave earnest interviews where he said things like "if I can do it - so can you!" with a straight face. I wish. The guy's a millionaire. I enjoy the momentary discomfort of anyone who has sold more units than me. You have to take the joy where you can find it. And of course, I'm not alone. There are millions upon millions of us.

The whole tale brings to mind a couple of iconic Seinfeld scenes. The first is where Newman brings Jerry in on a charge of mail fraud. "Oh, how I've longed for this day, the day when I would have the proof I needed to haul you out of your cushy lair and expose to the light of justice as the monster that you are..." Beat. "There will be a small fine."

The other is the episode where George is playing "the bad boy" to impress Elaine's co-worker, Anna. They're talking on the phone and Anna asks him what he's up to. George, ironing shirts in his underwear, says "You don't wanna know..."

I think that's how I will always prefer to remember James Frey, ironing shirts in his underwear, telling people he's their worst nightmare, the guy their mothers warned them about. If it weren't for the whole being a millionaire angle, you'd almost even feel sorry for him in a way.

Posted by Dr. Frank at January 10, 2006 06:18 PM | TrackBack

The only thing that would make this story better was if James Frey actually got caught bootlegging movies. Then he might be able to write another book called "Cry, Cry Again."

Posted by: tim at January 10, 2006 06:45 PM

At least Frey didn't tell everyone he had HIV.

Posted by: The Chimpunks at January 11, 2006 12:02 AM

I can't believe you didn't like "A Million Little Pieces." Granted it looses something when you find out that it's not all true, but it was still a good book.

Posted by: Erin at January 11, 2006 12:27 AM

I know a lot of people like it, but there's just too much hugging in it for my tastes.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at January 11, 2006 12:59 AM

"By now I imagine most people have seen the Smoking Gun exposé on James Frey"

Well, no, many of us had first to google on "James Frey."

Then we're still left wondering on we should care. Did he invent something useful or something?

I read this and... so what?

If I had a penny for everyone who sold a book to random house, I'd have a great estate.

Who cares about this putz, and why?

Never heard of him, still don't know why I should care. Has he done something worth noting?

I'm entirely serious. What's he done worth noticing? If I missed something, I should know.

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 11, 2006 07:02 AM

To back up, obviously he must have written something you care about, Dr. Frank. I don't mean to dismiss that.

But, no, I never ever heard of him, before your post, let alone whatever else went on with his life. That's quite likely my loss, perhaps. I'm on with Thomas Nephew not being in jail, or the possibilities of Hauser-Dröscher hyperspace, or the effects of Sharon's death, and Hilzoy c coming home, and the like.

We all have different lives.

It would be really nice if your software didn't erase stuff we wrote, though.

Wow, I copied the HTML, and it was still erased.







None of it's interesting, but maybe it won't be erased when I take the time to write it. Who knows?

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 11, 2006 07:14 AM

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 11, 2006 07:15 AM

Why I write on blogs that erase stuff I take time and effort to write beats the fucking crap out of me. I can get rudeness and erasure at home.

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 11, 2006 07:16 AM

If it's not clear, by the way, I made with the URLs, and, as usual here, though I never remember in advance, what I wrote was erased.

I take that personally, since I was the person who personally wrote it, and went to the trouble.


Posted by: Gary Farber at January 11, 2006 07:19 AM

Wow, Gary, I'd have thought it was pretty near impossible to avoid "A Million Little Pieces." I'm impressed.

As for whether he invented something useful, I'd say not; but useful or not, he did manage to sell around 4 million copies of it, and was the best selling author of 2005, save JK Rowling, if I have my facts right. A lot of people thought it was an Important Book, too.

I'm not sure exactly why the comments are such a problem here. I had to turn off the html permission as a spam-fighting measure, but you still should be able to post urls as text instead of hotlinks. I'm reluctant to fool around with the innards because all hell could quite possibly break loose. This thing is v. tenuously balanced.

This blog has been haunted by demons in the past and maybe they're still hanging around. There was a time when I couldn't even type "hotel romeo echo foxtrot" without causing a meltdown:


So, I'm sorry once again for that...

Posted by: Dr. Frank at January 11, 2006 07:29 AM

Next thing you'll be telling me the Da Vinci Code wasn't real either. Of course the real victim in all of this is Oprah.

Posted by: josh at January 11, 2006 12:54 PM

After all the fuss, I began reading this book in Borders some time ago and I couldn't get past the first fifteen pages (at which point I usually buy a book if I have some money and like it). It was a struggle to even get to pg.15. My take on it is similar to Truman Capote's assessment of Kerouac's On The Road: "It's a bunch of typing."

I guess people like Oprah and her staff have not read much stuff that is out there.

Still, one of Oprah's book club selections was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, and I have to say that that is one of my favorite books as well. One out of a hundred is not bad, I guess.

Posted by: David Cummings at January 11, 2006 06:38 PM

BTW, I am planning on passing on my own advance copy of King Dork to Oprah after I receive mine.

Posted by: David Cummings at January 12, 2006 10:10 PM

I have to admit to not being a Frey fan. But I wonder where authors draw the line with memoirs. It's obvious to me that David Sedaris exaggerates for comedic affect. It's impossible to have a black & white take on ethics when it comes to nonfiction, or any writing for that matter.

Posted by: DickDastardly at January 13, 2006 06:24 AM

...But isn't the real question - why are people's lives so dull they give a fuck about this jerk-off's 'I did drugs, hey I'm a criminal' in the first place? Is it so shocking to the majority of middle class people that, deep down, they actually respect it, find it titllating, even romantic? Those same people who'd see a junkie on the street or a petty criminal on the news and have nothing but contempt somehow come over awe-stuck and inspired when the most insipid of prose is applied and the whole thing appears in 12-point times new roman on paper. Give me a break. I've had needles in my arm, I've been to rehab and my dad's THE major league art fraud criminal... I'm 24. Living a clean, healthy life is all I want now. That and a little bit of punk rock. :)

Posted by: Nadz at January 21, 2006 04:04 AM