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A Couple of Frey Notes

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It had been my best intention to slow down on the James Frey posts, but there have been a couple of items that just force me to fall off the wagon. First, I’m sure you’ll remember Frey telling Larry King on CNN that “when Nan Talese purchased the book, I’m not sure if they knew what they were going to publish it as. We talked about what to publish it as. And they thought the best thing to do was publish it as a memoir.”

However, Talese herself disputed that claim and said she “almost collapsed” when Frey made that statement on national television. “When the manuscript of A Million Little Pieces was received by us at Doubleday, it was received as nonfiction, as a memoir,” Talese told The Observer. “Throughout the whole process of publication, it had always been a memoir, and for the first year and a half it was on sale, it was always a memoir with no disputation. It was never once discussed as fiction by me or anyone in my office.”

Talese may be just covering her own publishing ass, that would only be natural. But at the same time, I’ve met her and I know several people who have worked with her and everything points to her being sincere, full of integrity, and honest. So this is probably another legitimate criticism to thrown on the Frey fire. It’s getting tough for Frey right now, each day something else is piled on. However, both of his books still sit atop the New York Times bestseller lists so I suppose he doesn’t need too much sympathy.

Meanwhile, The Observer‘s Tom Scocca isn’t mincing words in his opinion of the whole controversy. “First things first: James Frey is a liar,” Scocca writes. “To say someone has lied, flat-out lied, is to make a claim about that person’s internal moral workings: The person knew something was false and said it anyway, deliberately, with intent to deceive.”

Here’s where it gets funny though. Scocca deconstructs the beginning of Frey’s second bestseller.

Thus, the copyright page of My Friend Leonard informs readers: “Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed. Some sequences and details of events have been changed.”
Fine. Then comes the opening sentence: “On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hit me in the back of the head with a metal tray.”
In other words: “On my first day in jail*, a three hundred pound man** named Porterhouse*** hit me in the back of the head**** with a metal tray*****.”
*The author never went to jail.
**Weight is an estimate; also the author, not being in jail, never met such a person.
***Not his real name; also the author never met such a person.
****Because the author’s head was not present in jail, such a blow did not actually land.
***** The composition of the tray is a guess, because the author did not actually get hit by it, because the author was never in jail.
Hilarious. Scocca ends his piece by quoting Frey’s writing about how he should be remembered, “Of himself, contemplating his own death and possible obituary, he writes, ‘No happy lies, no invented memories, no fake sentimentality, no tears …. I deserve to be portrayed honestly and I deserve nothing more.'”
I wonder how many memoirists are out there saying “gee, you know, maybe it’s a good thing my book about my how I fought back from the trauma of being grounded for a week in junior high school didn’t sell. Maybe it’s a good thing the guardian angel, er uh, angel of death Oprah, passed over my book.”