Autobiography/Memoir

A Million Little Pieces…a powerful account of addiction

Title: A Million Little Pieces
Author: 
James Frey
Published: Anchor Books/2004
Genre: Memoir
Length: 430
Rating: 5/10

I read A Million Little Pieces because my friend Krista G. (aka Shutters and Champagne) and I have plans to be guests at our friend Allison W.’s book club meeting next month. My next few weekends are super busy so I decided to read it a little early. I’ll get to the “Oprah vs. James Frey” scandal in a minute, but first a few things about the book.

A Million Little Pieces is Frey’s account of his time in alcohol and drug rehab in Minnesota. It doesn’t conform to typical grammar rules–it’s more like free-flowing words, thoughts and conversation. It’s not easy to read (or should I stay stomach, no pun intended, considering Frey spends most of the book vomiting). Frey seems to have been addicted to every hardcore drug imaginable, while drinking more than you can fathom at the same time, before hitting bottom when he fell face first down a fire escape and essentially broke his face. He’s also wanted in 3 states at this point. His description of his detox is unimaginable. His description of the rehab center kept making me picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which isn’t what it was really like, but there are some similarities. He made real bonds with other patients and with the kind/caring staff at the facility and they really helped him through his recovery. If anything, he makes you realize that while he and the other patients were all there for their own startling set of infractions and addictions, they all realized the deep down, they were all fighting the same battle and were able to bond over that.

I didn’t realize how few addicts are able to overcome their addiction–especially without AA and the Twelve Steps, which his facility really valued. At the end of the book, Frey lists what’s happened to the other patients he interacted with since their weeks together–it’s pretty scary. But Frey was lucky enough to have the support of his family. His brother visited him and his parents participated in a Family Program at the facility. You realize how hard the experience is for every family member, not just Frey. Certainly as you read A Million Little Pieces, parts of his memoir seem hard to believe, whether it’s his drug use, relationship with a female patient, Lilly, his recovery, etc. But it’s a memoir, right?

Well…I’m sure most everyone remembers how author James Frey made news years ago when Oprah picked A Million Little Pieces as a Oprah’s Book Club read. (On a side note, I’ve really liked most of her recommendations over the years!) Oprah was blown away by Frey’s memoir and invited him onto the show. After being on the show, The Smoking Gun investigated Frey’s account of his criminal charges, being wanted in 3 states and supposed jail time after rehab, and proved Frey to be a liar. Frey then went back on Oprah and basically admitted to lying about his criminal charges and also embellishing parts of the book to portray himself differently and make the book more entertaining. I recommend reading the transcript of James being confronted by Oprah after you read the book–just so you know where he embellished.

While Frey clearly blurred the lines of truth and good story-telling, I think you still walk away with a somewhat real account of someone’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction. And it’s pretty amazing to know that Frey has stayed sober. Overall, it was a bit of a heavy read and some parts were disturbing, but it was also pretty powerful.

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One thought on “A Million Little Pieces…a powerful account of addiction

  1. I read A Million Little Pieces because Leigh and I will be guests in our friend’s book club meeting in a few weeks. I’ve always wanted to read this book, especially after the Oprah drama. I figured I would read the book before doing research to see what parts of this memoir were ‘embellished’.

    It took awhile for me to get use to Frey’s writing style. At times, it was hard to distinguish who was talking, what was being said out loud and what he was thinking. Looking back, I think this unique writing style worked well given the context of the book. Although he ignores your typical grammar rules, two things are clear: he is a hardcore addict and the detox process is agonizing. I’ll be completely honest; the dark world of drugs and addiction is completely foreign to me. I had no idea one person could be addicted to so many drugs, including household substances like glue and gasoline. He started using when he was 13 years old…13!

    A Million Little Pieces starts out with James, now 23, waking up after being unconscious from another typical night of drinking and abusing drugs…but this time, he is severely injured and on his way to a rehab clinic. As expected, James has absolutely no interest in getting better and thinks rehab and The Twelve Steps are a joke. James faces many physical and mental challenges throughout the book. One part that stands out is when he is forced to undergo four root canals without anesthesia due to his addiction to pain killers. The Smoking Gun later found that this recollection was one of the embellished stories within the book. It is physically impossible for someone to stay conscious while undergoing a root canal due to the pain. Regardless, his description of the root canal gave me the chills.

    I was surprised to learn that only 17% of former addicts remain clean for the rest of their lives while following AA and The Twelve Steps. To this day, James Frey remains clean from alcohol and drugs. I think his story is inspiring, even though parts of his recovery were embellished. I would highly recommend A Million Little Pieces.

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