Standing in a Barnes & Noble, I was captivated by a book. So, I put A Million Little Pieces by James Frey on my birthday list and received it as a gift the year it came out (2003). In two days, I traveled through hell with a crack addict for a guide, reading the book cover to cover.
A Million Little Pieces is a memoir that I wish I could recommend, yet I must caution sensitive readers. The book contains graphic language, graphic sexuality, drug usage, criminality, and it describes a world we wish did not exist. But this world is real. I needed to journey with James Frey and learn from his hellish life. This summer I had the same experience (in a different way) when I read his follow-up work My Friend Leonard in a two-day period.
The book did reasonably well over two years. James Frey really promoted the follow-up book through his web site (actually his cult following pushed the book). However, in October the golden finger of Oprah Winfrey pointed at Pieces and selected James to appear on her show. Instantly the book was a hit. It has remained number one on Amazon's purchase list for the past 15 weeks. However, last week questions were raised about the integrity of the memoir, which had a couple of embellished facts. Larry King live called James and offered him one hour of interrogation on his show "Larry King Live" Wednesday, January 11, 2006.
I have to laugh. The accusation is that James is not as bad of a guy as he claims. An arrest and jail time were embellished, making him appear "badder" than he really was. Are these accusations serious? When have you ever been accused of not being bad enough? Never mind the guy went from thirteen years of alcohol, drug and crack abuse. Never mind the guy had a root canal with no sedation. He simply is not bad enough.
Pieces is written in a style that mirrors drug enduced logic. The sentences are choppy. The world is blurred. Reality is located on another planet. It is hard to fathom anyone coming from this crack cliff of death to write a coherent book that anyone could read, let alone want to read.
There is one fact that troubles me about this work. No, it is not the graphic nature of the book. No, it is not the controversy over what comprises a memoir. No, it is not that his arrest was embellished to appear tougher.
I am troubled by a man who found recovery, but believes he did it on his own. He takes a tough guy approach to recovery, yet refuses to acknowledge a higher power or any power past himself. This is where James Frey is blind. He had help all along the way. A family that did not reject him. Friends who believed in him past his lies. Counselors and professionals who were willing to break the rules and risk their jobs in order to see him recover.
His redemption is not complete. His recovery requires something beyond himself. A community of supporters. His self-inspired recovery is not accurate. It is deluded. He could not make it alone and he did not make it alone. He needed others every step of the way. Even his success is thanks to others like Oprah and fans and readers of his book.
James Frey is not bad enough. If he cannot acknowledge that a power higher than himself was at work, he is in this world alone. We need other people. Now, James would no doubt correct me. He would likely say, "without a doubt my recovery and ensuing success is due to the help of others, but it was my strength that pulled me through."
For James, God and Christianity is an addiction (1st Anchor books edition p 77-78) and not a solution. According to Frey, living the Christian life and telling it comes with the same glazed eye expression of someone high on strong drugs (p 90). James claims that God and religion are made up to help "people feel better" and "God is something people use to avoid reality" (223-225).
The "Fury" that James deals with and fights against is pure evil personified as darkness and Satan. The peace that he finds in "the calm" or the Tao is not "a void, not more powerful than any God,"(180) but a hint of the presence of the God. The God who has been there all along, who has no need of James to believe in him, but who is with James anyway and every step of the way. I sincerely hope that this man, who is not as bad as he claims, realizes that neither is he as good as he claims, but there is a God who loves him regardless of how good or bad.
A moment of clarity comes when James shares his confession to a priest, Father David. It is a requirement of his rehabilitation to tell a minister all he has done wrong. He tells the priest a heart-ripping story. After he had been in prison in Ohio, he was drunk and crying and decides to go into a church. The priest took him into a room, locked the door and made sexual advances to him. James beat him to a bloody pulp and left him uncertain if he were alive or dead. Father David listened to the story in silence. James thanks him and turns to leave. Father David says, "I am sorry." James brushes it off and Father David repeats it again, "I am sorry anyway."
James left that place with his weight lifted. He exhales and lets go of all the bad he has done in his life. Repentance is a good thing. Repentance is a God thing. Repentance is turning life around, admitting we were wrong, and receiving forgiveness from others (whom we need).
James, if you are reading, count me as a fan. But don't be delusional. Humpty Dumpty cannot put the million little pieces of himself back together. It takes others in addition to ourselves. It takes another that transcends us, who knows how to put the pieces back together of a life ripped apart.
Recommendation: The brave and mature may read with extreme caution.