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.