Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Million Little Opinions

This month America went nuts over the revelation that some of the events in James Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces were either exaggerated or completely made up. I didn't read the book after Oprah picked it for her Book Of The Month club, but my wife did. My wife loved the book and the message it conveyed. She was amazed when she saw James Frey appear on Oprah, amazed that a man who seemed so nice could have committed so the heinous acts described in the book.

So then The Smoking Gun comes out with these accusations, and James Frey appears on Larry King to defend himself. Oprah even calls into the show, defending Frey, and says this is all "much ado about nothing," because the message in the book is the message in the book, and people connected to the book, and whether or not things were exaggerated is irrelevant.

As I said, I didn't read the book, so I can't say if it would matter to me to find out events described in the book did not exactly happen as written.

I did, however, read a memoir by Dave Eggers titled A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius. This book was suggested to me by based on earlier purchases, and was given to me as a gift by a co-worker this past Christmas. I read about the critical acclaim for the book and that it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. I had become somewhat of a fan of Eggers through his website, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, so I was excited to read his bestseller.

I was disappointed by AHWOSG. The first half was quite compelling, but the narrative completely fell apart for me midway through, as the story of a young man attempting to raise his orphaned younger brother was interrupted by other, extraneous, stories, especially of the launch of Might Magazine and Eggers' attempts to become a castmember of The Real World.

I recently read that James Frey was also disappointed by Eggers book:

"A book that I thought was mediocre was being hailed as the best book written by the best writer of my generation. F**k that. And f**k him and f**k anybody who says that. I don't give a f**k what they think about me. I'm going to try to write the best book of my generation and I'm going to try to be the best writer."

And this was before all the criticism levied at Frey. Before Pieces even came out! Now, looking back, it's quite ironic that AHWOSG was the target of Frey's attack. Like Pieces, Eggers' book was also a memoir, but there were events in the book that also were clearly embellished, exaggerated, and convoluted. As a reader, there was no doubt that Eggers had drifted into fiction territory. Even more of a difference however, is that Eggers wrote extremely explicit disclaimers to these passages in the book's foreword. At the time, these drawn out disclaimers seemed odd to me, as some sort of literary device, or an attempt to add humor to the story of what had been a traumatic part of his life.

Now though, as Frey defends his work as a memoir that was not meant to be taken as an autobiographical exact account of events, he must be haunted by his attacks on AHWOSG, a memoir whose author went to great lengths to precisely explain where he had drawn lines between fiction and non-fiction.

In summation, I somewhat agree with Frey's assessment of AHWOSG, but I think he should regret making it.

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