I posted this as a comment at another site, but wanted to save it here as well.
I’ve been reading with half-hearted dismay the recent revelations about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.
I feel terrible for Frey. He’s obviously got some incredible lack within him to feel the need to fabricate something so extreme, and to feel the need to lie so drastically in return for affection. The whole story is just sad. I don’t by any means want to excuse what he did, though; I’ve already seen any number of attempted defenses of his work, people who’ve said that they felt the emotional timbre of the story is true, and people who’ve said they credit him for capturing the psychological reality of addiction. Because of this, they say, and because of how his work has served as the inspiration for others to heal, he should not be villified for the work.
I dont’ believe he should be vilified. I also don’t believe that he came anywhere near to capturing the emotional truths of addiction or recovery. He did put his finger on the pain and compulsion associated with being an addict (there were entire passages that could have been the blind and blunted howls of my own brain), but being able to describe the primitive nature of those drives is only part of it. It was strange to me, when I read the book, that Frey didn’t touch on the petrifying emptiness, the inability to love oneself, or the reasons behind the viscious attempt to escape. He wrote he was focused on the future; that he didn’t see the point of blame, but it sounded more to me as though he hadn’t come to accept the roots of his past.
(I say this in part because is no necessary blame that comes from exploring these roots, an important realization that he didn’t seem to understand. He wanted to take the entire blame for his history, but this claim rings so hollow. I take full responsbility for my own wrong-headed youth, and full responsibility for the damage I inflicted on myself and those I loved, but I don’t blame myself, nor anyone else, for it. I understand the difficulties in my childhood that led to my decisions, and I accept them. Blame plays no role.)
I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – his path was not mine, nor could mine possibly be anyone else’s – but the fact that he so virulently rejected AA and the 12-step program in favor of ‘will-power’ seemed a little unbelievable to me. No one recovers alone, and it’s irresponsible and cruel to tell other addicts that it’s merely a lack of will-power that’s destroying them. It’s not will-power that saves, but love, and this seems so sadly absent from both Frey’s book and his situation now. It might be true that not every addict ‘finds God,’ but every addict does and must surrender to something greater than his or her own ego. Frey never does.
I don’t wish to say much more about this, though, other than it’s a sad story on all fronts and it’s tragic that the pain and insecurity that lead to the book being published is causing so much more pain and anger now.