Monday, January 16, 2006

A Million Little Lies

Oprah Winfrey created a national bestseller when she nominated A Million Little Pieces for her book club. The book is a memoir about the troubled life of a drug addict and criminal. Unfortunately, the Smoking Gun conducted an investigation that showed the author, James Frey, lied. His book, which portray Frey as (among other things) an ex-con who went on a drug-fueled rampage in Ohio, underwent dental surgery without anaesthetic, and survived a hideous crash that killed two other people, is mostly exagerrated or made-up anecdotes making him seem tougher than he really was. This reminds me of the controversy over Clockers or more appropriately Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Some people are saying, who cares if it's true? I'm not sure I understand that perspective. Obviously the readers care. Certainly Oprah Winfrey cares. Here's a simple question to those doubters: would you have read the book if it hadn't been true? If it didn't matter if the story was true or not, then why call it a memoir? The difference between memoirs and fiction is that truth really happened. And no one can deny that a true story is more compelling than even the best fiction. The same people who would never pick up the latest Mary Higgins Clark novel will rush to pick up a tabloid with Laci Peterson on the cover. That's why the author labeled it a memoir in the first place. I haven't read the book myself, but from what I've read about it, it sounds like the book would be dismissed as a cliche-ridden piece of garbage if it had been sold as a novel. As a memoir, we say "Well, this does sound like a cliche, but it's true, so I'll accept it." At best, it's a well-written novel masquerading as truth. At worst, it's a practical joke played on paying customers. I think it's kind of sad that a writer would resort to this kind of trickery to get published. Next time, try writing a good novel.

Slate's commentary on it:
Categories: entertainment

1 comment:

Mauricem said...

Man that's crazy. Kind of like I felt when I realized "The Great Brain" was fiction.
I still can't understand why Oprah won't denounce it. Does she have so much "skin in the game" that she's afraid to let go? She should be ashamed. It's not like I'll ever join the "Oprah Winfrey book club" but still.
The guy is being sued, but it seems a little frivilous. I can't really say it's a crime.