Putting the Pieces Together: An Epilogue

Last week, RandomHouse.com posted “a note to the reader,” written by James Frey. It will be added to future printings of A Million Little Pieces.

When we put the pieces together he’s given us, what picture do we see?

 

Take One: Give the Guy a Break!

Taken as a whole, Frey’s note expresses a sincere sounding apology, an explanation of the embellishments and a re-affirmation that the book represents the “subjective truth” of his fight against alcohol and drug addiction. His purpose was to write a book to encourage other addicts to fight against their demons. He also hopes to help the families of addicts to be more understanding and empathetic. He closes with “I am deeply sorry to any readers …” This is the picture Frey says we should see. But …

Take Two: Get Honest!

The very 1st sentence reads,

“Pieces” is about my memories of my time in a drug and alcohol treatment center.

It should have read “was inspired by …”

In the second sentence, he says, “… I embellished many details …”

When 6 hours in a police station becomes 3 months in prison, somehow the word “embellish” doesn’t quite capture the spirit. What if Lance Armstrong hadn’t really had metastatic cancer but an abscess leading to septicemia requiring 3-4 days in the hospital?

The third paragraph begins,

“I didn’t initially think of what I was writing as nonfiction or fiction, memoir or autobiography. I wanted to use my experiences to tell my story … I wanted to write, in the best-case scenario, a book that would change lives.”

Had he actually set out to write a memoir, he might have said instead, “I wanted to write in the most honest way I could.”

When he says, “I wanted to write a book that would detail the fight addicts and alcoholics experience …”, I translate that to, “I didn’t think my story was interesting enough or dramatic enough to have an impact.”

Later in the statement, he says,

“I made other alterations in the portrayal of myself … that made me tougher and more daring and aggressive than in reality I was, or I am. … My mistake, and it is one I deeply regret, is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience.”

This admission to me contradicts what he says later, “It is a subjective truth.”

I certainly agree with his concluding comments “that drug addiction and alcoholism can be overcome, and there is always a path to redemption if you fight to find one.”

He ends with, “Thirteen years after I left treatment, I’m still on the path, and I hope, utimately, I’ll get there.”

What could possible be wrong with his final sentiment?

Drug and alcohol problems come in many different levels of severity. There are certain genetic variants that make addiction extremely hard to overcome. Addiction is about denial (deception of self and others) and dyscontrol (lack of control). Many people, maybe most, need AA or least the AA philosophy to fight their demons. Relapse is the rule not the exception in hard core addicts.

James Frey went into rehab at age 23. He had graduated from college. He spent 6 weeks in rehab and supposedly has had no relapses. Neither he nor his mother thought there was any risk in light of the current onslaught of criticism.

When I start putting the pieces together, the picture I get is – he used drugs and had a drinking problem but he wasn’t a hard drug addict or alcoholic.

If I’m right, then should his road to recovery be a model for others to follow? Should others expect to spend 6 weeks in rehab and then go on to be successful? When others fail to achieve this relatively rapid success, are they less adequate or less committed to fight the fight?

You can have cancer and it can be spread to your lungs and brain. This is not necessarily a death sentence. It’s even possible that you can completely recover and go on to great achievements and help change the world. We know this because we know Lance Armstrong’s story. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we really know James Frey’s story.

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