A few thoughts on fakery

Mr. Bell and Mr. Shadow are guest stars in this week’s Carnival of the Cats and above the fold, no less. Check it out. Lots of cute cats doing silly things.

Back when I was working at the bookstore, the bestseller of the moment phenomenon used to drive me insane. There was always some book that everyone needed to have, at that very moment, or the world would end. The Davinci Code, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, My Life, whatever. People would all come racing into the store the minute the New York Times told them to demanding copies. It’s curious to me that the majority of this country decides what to read on the basis of what other people tell them. The Davinci Code is not a good book. I read it, I ought to know. Aside from the fact that large portions of it were blatantly plagiarised, the book just isn’t that good. Ok, sure, it’s decent beach reading. What made the book take off was the hype, not the quality, and this drives me batty, because it means that a lot of amazing books never really take off, since they didn’t capture someone’s imagination.

Which is why it gave me great pleasure to notice that James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, got exposed today for the sack of shit that it is. Lies and the Lying Liars indeed. The book sold more copies in 2005 than any other, save Harry Potter. It was selected for Oprah’s book club in October, and shot to the top of the bestseller list, a place it has flirted with for a few years now. Frey whored himself out for every media opportunity possible, and followed up the book with a sequel, as well. He’s certainly been rolling in it ever since 2003.

A Million Little Pieces has been marketed, and sold, as nonfiction. As The Smoking Gun discovered, most the book is in fact highly fictionalized. Now, there’s nothing wrong with fiction. That’s why there’s a whole section in the library devoted to it. But there is something gravely wrong with stating that something is nonfiction when it is, in fact, not true. Especially in the case of a book like this, which dealt with other people’s lives, not just Frey’s. He inserted himself into places he never was, and made himself to be a big bad wolf, but it sounds like he’s just a Labrador puppy.

As a publisher, it should be a bad sign when “almost every character in Frey’s book that could address the remaining topics has either committed suicide, been murdered, died of AIDS, been sentenced to life in prison, gone missing, landed in an institution for the criminally insane, or fell off a fishing boat never to be seen again. * ” Apparently Frey originally marketed the book as fiction, and then later changed his mind, also something that should set off alarm bells for a serious publisher. Indeed, Frey’s own accounts of his life varied and were inconsistent, also a seriously bad sign.

The Smoking Gun’s account is fascinating to me–the authors essentially went through and devastated every single one of Frey’s claims. He was not a drug addicted criminal loser with no hope for redemption, just a middle class midwestern white boy. Frey’s claims of prison time-false. Frey’s claims of multiple felony arrests-false. Frey himself is also rather false. Frey never spent any time in prison, never assaulted policemen–never did any of the things his book claims, which makes me wonder what he was doing. The Smoking Gun’s expose almost makes me sad–here’s someone who lived such a pathetic and boring life that he constructed a fiction (which it sounds like his parent colluded in, for shame), and then sold it, and made rather a lot of money.

The line that Frey crossed was not writing a book. It’s fine to write a book. It’s fine to write a book about a drug addicted self destructive loser–Chuck Palahniuk did, but he didn’t claim to be the protagonists in Choke and Fight Club, either. He told a story, a good story, at that, but the books were clearly labeled and marketed as fiction. My problem with Frey’s book is that he claimed it as something it wasn’t, and that cheapens all literature, fiction and nonfiction. Should publishers be hiring fact checkers? Maybe not, but they should try and use common sense. Frey’s claims are so outlandish that it’s hard to believe they could be true, and he admitted in an interview with The Smoking Gun that most of his book was, in fact, a lie. Then why not just come out and say that? Now bookstores all over the country are going to have to find space in their fiction sections for Frey–or return the books, which is what I would do.

That said, I do hope you all buy my memoir, which is out in March. I think you will find it a compelling and moving tour de force which puts you directly into the mind of a meth and crack addled teenager. My hope is that the tragic tale of my youth will hit you in a soft and squishy spot you didn’t even know existed, that you will be amazed by my perseverance and dedication to living through it all. Everything’s there–from the first time in second grade when a friend offered me a hit off his crack pipe to my six stints in rehab and my eventual peace with myself through tantric teachings. I know that you will find some aspects of it hard to believe, like the part where I was used as a coke mule at nine years of age by my cousin’s exboyfriends sisters wife’s maid, but I’m telling you…it’s all true. Every word.