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    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Sure, James Frey is a Bestselling Writer ...

    but why rake him over the coals because his "memoir" is not "true"?

    In an interview with The Times last month, Mr. Frey said that he originally envisioned "A Million Little Pieces" not as a memoir but as a novel. "We were in discussions after we sold it as to whether to publish it as fiction or as nonfiction," he said. "And a lot of those issues had to do with following in a legacy of American writers." Mr. Frey noted that writers like Hemingway, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac had written very autobiographical books that were published as fiction.

    And there's not a memoir out there that's "true". I mean, the very idea of "memoir" admits untruth and a lack of objectivity: one person writes their version of one small aspect of one small part of a life story. Do people really think they're reading a volume of facts? And, if they do, I'm kind of glad this "scandal" came out, if only to educate them of their own error. Sadly, Frey has to gone down for it. My fear is also that Oprah's book club can't take another hit, having only just now been revived after the Franzen debacle.

    Secrets and Lies has a heart for Oprah:

    I mean, first everybody gives the woman shit for selecting only female (overwhelmingly of color) authors. Then they give her shit for selecting heavy, tragic novels. Then they give her shit for selecting light, beachy reads to the point that Jonathan Franzen felt like he was too good for her endorsement (but not too good to bitch about how nobody reads literary fiction anymore, OMGWTF!?)

    So then they gave her shit when she said she couldn’t find a book she wanted to recommend heartily every single month anymore, big shock, because all the people giving her shit made ME want to quit reading and I don’t even watch the show. Then she got shit for picking old, dead white guys’ novels instead of contemporary fiction. And then she gets shit from a bunch of female novelists when she starts the book club again and picks the non-fiction memoir of a living white guy…

    Who just turned out to be a big fat liar about EVERYTHING."

    Now, I agree, but Oprah's not going to lose her career over this. Frey may have a hard time bouncing back.

    The blogosphere is schaudenfreuding itself into a coma: Archivesgrrl, You've Got Whatever's Left of Me to Get, Felsenmusick.

    Here's the thing: Frey seems to have gone around reiterating his claim that everything in his book is "true". Now, we can hate him for that or we can think he's pulling a Warhol on us; I could be naive, but if it still works, why not use it? (The JT Leroy thing is nothing if not Warholian- this person looks like s/he just stepped out of the damn Factory.) And, intentional or not, I don't really care.

    There's something else going on here. People are excited because they finally get to take down the so-called "memoir craze" with something besides pure snobbery ("Why do all these people have to share their dirty laundry with the world? It's so gauche!"), this time the memoir is vulnerable for attack on its own terms: its supposed veracity. Better yet, we get to sneer at the "soccer moms" who were stupid enough to go buy something and read it.

    Finally, a lot of writer-types are happy because everyone was jealous not only of Frey's success, but of the fact that he led the wild and crazy "badass" life while the rest of us were getting an education, like the geeks we are. Now it's like, "Ha! You're not such a bad boy after all!"

    If you actually want to get down and dirty with the "Proof", here you go.


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