When we picked the book we had the debate if it was worth reading because it wasn’t true. I mean what kind of guy goes and writes an Oprah-approved biography that turns out to be a lie? In the end we decided to read it anyways, why not read it like a work of fiction then? I thought I wouldn’t have a problem with it, we all read so many fictional books, why would this one be any different? But as I got near the end, and I realized I had formed a kind of bond with the characters, including Frey himself, hoping that they all have happy endings; it was then I had to remind myself that this guy made up his life story. He got all this sympathy, which I completely understand from reading it myself, and gave hope to people struggling with addictions, and yet, it was a lie. I almost felt betrayed after I read it – it was a strange feeling.
After reading the Smoking Gun Report, the website that did the investigation on the book, it’s pretty clear that most of the book is fiction. Besides the fact that he went to the rehab center, everything else in the book has either been dramatized or completely made up. Its important to note that James Frey actually writes screen plays, so obviously has a good imagination, and it is said that he marketed it to publishers as fiction first, and only after being denied multiple times that he began to call it a memoir which in the end earned him the publishing deal. I will not read the sequel, which he also stated was true, but is in fact fiction.
Putting the fact/fiction debate aside, looking at it as a book, I grew tired of the writing style. I think it made the book seem more intimate and honest since it felt like James Frey was talking to us himself, but sometimes it was hard to follow. He never used quotation marks and often switched between a conversation, his thoughts, and his surroundings; it wasn’t hard to figure out but sometimes I had to stop and re-read the paragraph to understand who was saying what. The other thing that bothered me was the repetition, I get it, you’re an “alcoholic and a drug addict and a Criminal.” I caught that the first 10 times you said it. Side pet peeve, the random capitalization of words, some I understood, like Criminal, some just felt like they were thrown in there.
The story is a good story though, I will give him that. Just as Oprah said when she named it a book club book, you’re on the edge of your seat hoping that he’s still alive by the end of the book. Even though most of the characters are criminals in some way, and they are addicted to drugs or alcohol and maybe don’t deserve any sympathy, as you get to know each of them, you hope that they will be a success story and turn their lives around. The characters develop at the right pace with the right amount of foreshadowing to keep the reader excited to get to know the back stories of each person; how did they get here? do they have a family? why are they trying to get better? It is actually heartbreaking at the end of the book where Frey lists what happened to each character, most of them were found dead, and you can truly feel loss for those people.
Overall I would say I liked the book; it was a good story that kept me captured until the very last page. Even though the writing annoyed me, it added to the “realness” of Frey and it felt like you were really there beside him as he struggled to get clean. As I said before, I wouldn’t read the sequel only because I lost a lot of respect for Frey as an author, and he shouldn’t deserve the fame and money for making his life seem heroic, when its not. But if you can ignore that fact, I do suggest reading this book, if only for the entertaining story.
And what is a good book, without inspiring quotes?
“Let things be, let yourself be, let everything be and accept it as it is. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“There is no fear. Absolutely no fear. When one lives without fear, one cannot be broken. When one lives with fear one is broken before one begins to live.”
“When I see you, the World stops. It stops and all that exists for me is you and my eyes staring at you. There’s nothing else. No noise, no other people, no thoughts or worries, no yesterday, no tomorrow. The World just stops, and it is a beautiful place, and there is only you.”
“Be strong. Live honorably and with dignity. When you don’t think you can, hold on.”
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts?