Sunday, January 29, 2006

Obligatory Piece on James Frey and the Evils of Deceit

Turns out James Frey is a big liar. I bought his book for my son for Christmas, because (a) it had an Oprah sticker on it, and (b) the first couple pages are some really hot writing. Makes you want to read more. I believe in good writing and want to reward it, because there is soooooo much lousy-ass writing out there. And I’m talking about best-selling books. Awful stuff. (Now, here we get into a bit of a self-conscious bind since I am actually writing, and I guess I am implying that my own writing is not awful. But then again, you’re not paying for it, so do I really have to hold myself to the same standard?) Anyway, here are some thoughts.

If I had seen him on Oprah before I bought the book, I probably would not have bought it, because he is awfully mousy and whiny – not good attributes in either writers or drug addicts.

I did see him on Oprah the other day after she found out about the fact that he had really stretched the truth in his book. She really tore him a new one. I think its fine to tear someone a new one when he has been bad and hurt someone, but I get the feeling that the most offended one was her royal self, and she was really just mad because he messed up her book club’s reputation. Hey, that book club needed a shake-up anyway. What’s with all the sad, deep stuff? How about some Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Moore, or Chuck Palahniuk? If she needs a Book Club Guru, I would accept the job. As long as I didn’t have to move to Chicago.

That said, I had to feel for the guy getting raked over the coals like that. Once they cut to a commercial just before I know he must have burst into tears. One of the things that really made me feel for him was that I don’t think he knew the answers to some of the questions Oprah was asking about the details in the book that were found to be untrue. After all, nobody was denying that he had been really drugged up for years. I’m sure he did not know or remember the whole truth (although no matter how messed up you are, you know the difference between a couple days in the joint and a couple of months).

Now that I know the book is tainted and sort of made-up, I would not have bought the book as a gift. (For a primer on taint, go to and find Ed Helms’ Daily Show piece on the “Level of Taint” in Washington. Awful. Just awful. I did NOT laugh my head off.) Let alone the Smoking Gun piece that exposed the lies in the book, just watching James Frey on Oprah would have changed my mind about buying it. Chuck Palahniuk he is not.


Dean said...

if you look at it as a novel inspired by a guy who's (mostly) been there, it's a powerfull story. Big time. I read the smoking gun report, and 90% of the stuff they scream about can be found on 1 page of the book. It's a big long list of a lifetime of transgressions, most of them are still true, the idea is there and it's a fairly insignificant part of the story.

Interesting fact: The story was rejected 17 times (by different editors) when it was shopped around as a fiction novel.

piglet said...

That fact is interesting. (If it's true! Ha!)

I think a lot of the hoo-haw was about Her royal indignation at being shown to be fallible. Oprah-on-fire is a formidable power to face for anyone. I hope that guy had some friends around afterwards to do some first aid.