I am offended. The recent revelations regarding James Frey’s “memoir,” “A Million Little Pieces,” has had me doing back-flips in my head for the past week. I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to. I don’t need to – my life is far more interesting, inspirational and real than, as it turns out, his is. Telling the truth is IMPORTANT. It is a huge stretch between protecting individuals by changing names places and dates, not remembering specific chronology, specific dialogue, etc. and fabricating events that never occurred. I am offended.
Without going into a lot of details, I knew that many of his claims (from interviews, second hand retellings from his book and reviews) were fabricated. I know this from having experienced many similar events first hand. The little details didn’t add up. To those that have not gone through such situations, these events may seem plausible, even credible. What he has done is akin to plagiarism. He has appropriated other’s experiences and made them his own.
Look, I have many friends who have spent time in prison (state and federal), and many more (myself included) that have done significant time in many local county jails. They are NOT the same world. I am intimately familiar with many of the aspects of day-to-day prison life. I could, if I so desired, write a compelling and believable account of what that is like. Believable to all but those who have been there. Experience cannot be duplicated by proximity.
So I questioned the veracity of Mr. Frey’s accounts long before The Smoking Gun did their first rate expose´ of him. Now more than just a sneaking suspicion or a “feeling,” evidence has my back. Besides discrediting what Mr. Frey claims to be “less than five percent of the book,” it brings the entire book into question. Unfortunately, because many of the witnesses, sources, etc. are conveniently unavailable, these claims will never be subject to objective scrutiny. However, as Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either,” it casts reasonable doubt upon everything he says, in or out of his book.
As far as Oprah, Doubleday, Larry King or Frey's blindly devoted fans are concerned, ask yourself whether this is what you expect from non-fiction. If so, perhaps I should choose another genre. When I write, you may count on it being the truth. If non-fiction no longer means truthful, then perhaps I will start a new genre - “honest non-fiction.” And if that becomes tainted, it’ll become “really honest non-fiction, honest.” And so on. I’m sticking by my guns. I firmly believe that if a book is bought under the pretense that it is truthful, it better be just that, no matter what anyone else says.