Over the summer, I had the chance to FINALLY read A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. I was blown away by this book. BLOWN AWAY. This man is constantly brought up at conferences (especially those panels dealing with Creative Nonfiction), and usually he is the black sheep of the party. Everyone says "Creative Nonfiction in the world of James Frey," and things like that-- "Tell the truth, the whole truth. Don't just make things up if you're writing Creative Nonfiction!"
From what I'm gaining in understanding, every fiction piece has more truth than you'd like to believe and every creative nonfiction piece has more lies than you'd like to know about. It's how writing works. We put ourselves into our characters. For Creative Nonfiction, we do our best to tell the reader the truth from what we remember, but memories aren't always reliable.
If you're unaware of the controversy surrounding this book, just type "A Million Little Pieces" in your search engine. You'll find a TON of articles saying the author embellished various sections of his "Memoir". But honestly? I don't care about that. I was aware of all of these things before I bought and read the book, and I finally found it in a thrift/used book store last year and sat down to read it.
Here is why I loved it, and consequently, James Frey:
I'm an expert at self loathing. Like really...I don't usually like myself (If you read my Creative Nonfiction pieces, I'm usually a raging bitch...because I am in real life). Frey's account of self loathing, being unable to look in the mirror...everything...his need for self destruction, drinking, drugs...I could relate. At the end of the day, I feel like as writers, that's all we want --Our stories to be relate-able--. I don't care if he wasn't arrested, or if a girl slit her wrists verses hanging herself....the fact is, she's still dead.
James Frey was able to bring you into a world, maybe a world he thought was real...or felt real to him. If you don't like that it was (or is?) called a Memoir, take it as fiction. I still think you should read this book. He made the story relate-able and brilliant and powerful. As a writer I think he succeeded, where as at the level of a Creative Nonfiction writer, he may have failed.
Everyone is so angry with him for changing the game that they don't really even look at how awesome his work really is. If he had marketed the book as Fiction, everyone would have been raving about it. But I think to him, it wasn't Fiction. Maybe he's starting to creating Partial Creative Nonfiction. Or Exaggerated Creative Nonfiction. Are we as writers allowed to make new genres? After all, if you read any agent's blog, they're always asking for "What's next?" "What will be the new hot trend?"...I think Partial Creative Nonfiction would be pretty sweet. (I'm not kidding).
A quick warning about the book:
The start was pretty hard for me to get into because of the way it's written. Another reason I am giving him a lot of props is because he used very basic words and with the use of repetition and various other devices that made his sentences so strong, I felt like I was getting sucker punched as I read.
Some of what he says and experiences is pretty graphic. I do not doubt his level of self hate/mental health/addictions. This book will make you depressed while you're reading it. Even if you take him as just a narrator and just a story (rather than a partially or fully true story), it is very intense and if you don't understand addiction or self hate...this is a good step to attaining that knowledge.
I still think about this book a lot, and some parts were difficult for me to read. I recommend it frequently and want more people to read it...even if it's fiction (or part-fiction). Honestly, I don't care. James Frey wrote something, made it a very powerful piece, and I say good job.
On a side note (still related), I just got My Friend Leonard for $0.50 as a thrift store yesterday. I was so excited I asked the woman at the counter to hold it for me so I could run home...and steal money from my sister. If it is anything like his first book, I'm very excited to read it. Even if it's not wholly true.