Well, I finished watching what could arguably be the biggest story in publishing for quite a while. Or at least the biggest story that doesn’t involve boy wizards or Da Vinci conspiracies.
James Frey appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live last night. He comported himself reasonably well, although some of his defenses were a bit weak. When King asked him to reconcile the difference between his claim of spending three months in jail with The Smoking’s Gun’s allegation that he only spent a couple of hours in the pokie, Frey responded with a comment that all memories are subjective.
Now, I’ve never been an alcoholic and I’ve never been a drug addict. I do have a well documented problem with Mt. Dew, but luckily I’ve managed to stay away from the hard stuff. Therefore, I can’t speak with any certainty on the effects of drugs on memory.
I do remember the St. Patrick’s Day dance in 7th grade, and it’s accompanying romantic highlights, dramatically differently than Mary Jane Johnson does. So I know how subjective memory can be at times. But still, how in the hell do you mistake a couple of hours, or even a night in the drunk tank, with a couple of months? That’s stretching the stretch a bit too much for my taste.
Throughout the interview, King continually asked Frey if he had heard from Oprah, as though she sits on the throne of God and was going to call the errant author home to atone for his sins. Now, we all understand the influence Oprah wields in book sales, but King’s constant invocation was beyond annoying.
Which I must say is what I took away from this show more than anything else. I’m still on the fence about Frey, still debating my thoughts on the issue, but the one thing I am sure of is that Larry King must be one of the worst interviewers in the world. Geez, I realize I’m not the best interviewer in the world. But this was painful to watch.
On a preview for the show, King talked about how he liked A Million Little Pieces because it was easy to read. Once the show started, I kept wondering how many times did King have to ask about Oprah? Frey answered the question but King kept returning to it over and over again. Frey and his mother specifically mentioned that the author’s brother was present when they took him to rehab. But shortly thereafter, King asked if Frey had any siblings. I was reminded of the time that Pamela Anderson was on the show promoting her Barbed Wire film and King asked her what the tattoo on her arm was. She responded that it’s a tattoo of barbed wire. He then asked her why she got that ink done. I guess I’ll have to get my spam filter set up to protect me from King-fan hatemail, but how this guy still has a job is beyond me.
At one point, King asked Frey if he had let his mother down. And it was clear from the context that he was referring to this issue of exaggerating certain elements of the book. It was like he was saying being a drug addict, an alcoholic, and someone with a criminal past is no big deal, but writing a bestselling memoir with some embellished elements was just too much for Mom to take. Frey answered, in the same way I would have, with saying he’s let his mother down a lot during his life, but this instance ain’t one of them.
Perhaps the most WTF moment came when Frey mentioned Jerzy Kosinski’s memoir. After a brief exchange, King blurts out that Jerzy killed himself. The exclamation, which had nothing to do with anything, is met with stunned silence. Frey must have been wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into.
Anyway, finally, after dozens of incantations, like a scene out of a sword-and-sorcery movie, the great god Oprah appeared. You only have to say Candyman’s name three times to get him to appear, but I guess Oprah takes more. King certainly hit that high figure, whatever it is. Or maybe it was just jammed phone lines. Oprah said the phone had been busy all night, but that’s hard to know since King only took three phone calls, two from ardent Frey supporters and one that was lukewarm, no outright critical comments.
Oprah called in to voice her support for Frey and A Million Little Pieces and said that the “underlying message of redemption resonates with me” in spite of the controversy.
I’m not sure we know anything more now than we did earlier today. But in a weird way, it’s kind of nice that a book and an author generate this kind of excitement. Brad and Angelina’s baby and Nick and Jessica’s divorce wasn’t mentioned at all. And now this morning, the whole thing is the lead story on CNN’s main page. Although the controversy does disappoint me, the fact that anything to do with books is getting this much attention still makes it interesting.[DISCLAIMER: I created the name Mary Jane Johnson for my allusion to the St. Patrick’s Day dance in 7th grade. And there were no romantic highlights either. I didn’t have a date at all, but I felt like it added a little spice to the story so I embellished my 7th grade, orthodontically enhanced sexual magnetism. Then, since Nick Hornby made a certain amount of romantic failure cool, I also undercut the whole scene by saying that the fictional girl of Mary Jane Johnson might disagree with me. Please don’t sic The Smoking Gun folks on me.]