Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Why Frey’s fakery matters

Jerry Stratton, January 12, 2006

James Frey apparently couldn’t sell his book as fiction, because it was too clichéd. So he sold it as a memoir instead, where clichés don’t just not hurt, they help. They help sales, anyway. But they definitely do hurt. Why? In Picking Up the Pieces, Seth Mnookin writes:

...the very abundance of its clichés has likely helped make it a runaway best seller: People like having their suspicions confirmed. For nonaddicts, Pieces reinforces the still dangerously prevalent notion that it’s easy to spot a drug addict or an alcoholic... For those struggling with their own substance-abuse issues, Pieces sends the message that unless you’ve reached the depths Frey describes, you don’t have anything to worry about--you’re a Fraud. And if you do have a problem, you don’t need to necessarily get treatment or look to others for support; all you need to do is “hold on.”

Accuracy always matters; lies in favor of a higher cause fail to help precisely because they end up focusing our attention away from the real problems and the real causes. Inaccuracy in the promotion of good causes is a very dangerous tool that is likely to backfire. In this case, it may cause people who need rehab to forego it and simply “hold on”.

“Essential truths” is rapidly becoming a euphemism for “lies”.

February 1, 2006: The eXile

When I linked to Toestubber yesterday and recommended following through to John Dolan’s Finest Book Review Ever Written, I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the site the review was on. The eXile is a fascinating place: apparently a couple of American expatriates in Moscow started an English-language newspaper there, in the style of the Rolling Stone if it were run by Hunter S. Thompson.

John Dolan reviewed Frey’s other book, too, and came to the same conclusion (with less research) that the Smoking Gun did:

“And I have this funny feeling that there is no truth in them at all. Thanks to the Net, you can check out people’s criminal records these days. And from what I’ve found in several days of looking, James Frey, who has become a millionaire celebrity by boasting about his bad-boy past, has--gasp!--no criminal record at all. Could it be true? Could this rugged survivor be no more than a trust-fund boy with a gift for woofing?”

He repeatedly compares Frey to another writer, Eddie Little. While suggesting that Frey may have used Little’s story, lightened it up and made it palatable for “pious hypocrites”, Dolan makes me want to read Little’s books. Unfortunately, unlike Frey’s, Little’s first book is out of print--despite having had a movie based on it several years ago.

Dolan is generally great fun to read. Even his review of The Lord of the Rings, which I mostly disagree with, was brilliantly funny. The only really bad spot was reading his take on Fahrenheit 9/11 which, like most sympathetic takes on the movie, never actually says anything about the movie. Even there, however, I’m almost inclined to believe that the article is a satire of such reviews, especially after comparing Dolan’s lack of concern over Moore’s deceptions with Dolan’s concern over Frey’s deceptions. (Almost inclined. Moore, like, apparently, Frey, has the ability to get otherwise intelligent people to short-circuit their bullshit detectors.)

So, take a look at eXile. Take a good look through their cover images as well.

January 31, 2006: Now it’s really time to throw down

I’ve been quoting a lot of other people about the James Frey effect rather than talking about it myself; allow me to continue to do so. Rick over at Toestubber writes:

Meanwhile, out here, there’s an enormously destructive Drug War still going on, with real people getting sent to real prisons. Clueless morons fan the deadly flames of prohibition in this country, every time they believe that crap like Jimmy Frey’s books accurately describe addiction or recovery therefrom.

You also need to follow the link to the Finest Book Review Ever Written.

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