Thursday, January 26, 2006

My two cents ...

James Frey wrote great fiction.

It didn't sell.

Years passed.

Someone offered to buy it as truth.

It sold.

James Frey wrote great fiction.

22 Comments:

At 10:26 PM, Blogger SportyChick said...

How brilliant: not only did he write great [sic] fiction, but since we all know that the only bad publicity is an obituary, he's laughing all the way to the bank. Bravo, Frey, bravo. Now bite me and make way for real writers.

 
At 7:19 AM, Anonymous frames said...

Here, here. Blame the game, not the player.

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Scrubby Nub and The Bothered Brigade said...

Fact or fiction, if it's a good read, it doesn't matter. Not like Frey's publishing high school history books.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Why didn't the publishers want to market it as an autobiographical novel? That didn't hurt, say, "Tropic of Cancer" any.

 
At 11:29 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Still, with all this brouhaha, do you think Frey will become the new Clifford Irving, his credibility and saleability shattered (sha-doo-bee)?

 
At 11:50 AM, Blogger lilihammer said...

My issue with the whole brouhaha wasn't whether or not he was a good writer and deserved all the kudos; I take issue with the fact that over and over, he said with a straight face that everything in that book was the truth.

Writing talent (or not) aside, he accepted praise from people for his "struggle" to overcome his addictions/life of crime/etc., and was held up as a poster boy for addiction recovery.

He's laughing his way to the bank for sure, but I wonder if prostituting his life (and that of others in his "memoir") is worth all that dough.

 
At 12:26 PM, Blogger TripleJ said...

Good comments.

People should check out lilihammers' site. She tackled this issue weeks ago.

Frey didn't change the art to fit the money. He wrote, then others decided how to shop it.

And yes, he lied. And yes, he shouldn't have. Nor should I have had that third glass of wine last night. But c'mon.

He was a shy, weak guy caught up in cutthroat environment. Who just wanted to write IT and have people read IT.

Old, old Larry King was on Anderson Cooper's show last night. They were going back and forth on the topic. Larry said he had talked to Frey that day. He {Frey} was not doing well. He was beat up.

Larry said 'Did you read the book?'
Anderson said 'Yes.'
Larry said, 'Didn't you think it was great fiction?'
Anderson replied, 'Doesn't even matter to me anymore whether it was good or not. But for the record, read it and didn't care for it.'

Then Larry, in a gutsy move, defended the work of art (not the packaging) saying something like 'Anderson, didn't you think the root canal scene was one of the better written scenes in recent memory?'

Anderson made some elitist comment that I intrepreted as 'Hey Larry ... didn't you see the great, hard-hitting coverage I did on Katrina. Let's talk about that. I've vying for Geraldo's spot.'

Anyway, I couldn't agree more with Larry. The scene and the book's opener rank high on my list. And yes, both now turned out not to be 100% true.

 
At 12:40 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Didn't Faulkner say the best fiction is more true than real life?

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger Martin McFriend said...

Yes, and Hemingway said "write what you know" so I think there is something to be said for using life as inspiration or information for fiction.

Good comments, TripleJ. The point here is whether or not the book caught on because of what it had to say. Yeah, there might be some bullshit in it. But let's give Americans some credit. Although a lot of pro-Euro snobs and cynics make it an artform to bash the typical American consumer, I think American readers (and viewers) are among the worlds best at finding and lauding (not to mention producing) quality material. My point? That most people in this country who read the book found some redeeming value in its pages and its message. Though I haven't myself read it, from those I've talked to, "Pieces" has some really cool parts and a clear underlying theme of salvation.

So the point is to not hate the player OR the game. The point is to respect that a book (or any artform) is an experience and it's all about what you get out of it. I think publishers should make it a priority to be clear in what is fiction, what is fact, and what is sort of a grey area in between (this is what forewards and author's notes are for.) Likewise, people should make it a priority to interpret everything they read accordingly, and not just believe everything someone says wholesale.

In the end, does it matter if James Frey woke up on a plane with a hole in his face? Or does it matter that this is a pretty fucking McFriendly way to start off a story?

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I was rather surprised to hear his voice on Larry King. It was nothing like I expected.

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger lilihammer said...

But he shopped it around as a novel first and was rejected by every publishing house. They told him it wouldn't sell as fiction, so he re-jiggered it and came back and shopped it as a "memoir." Sounds like he did "change the art to fit the money."

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger Martin McFriend said...

Is there something wrong with changing how a piece is marketed to make more money?

I mean, they actually have a statement in the trailer for the ridiculous bloodbath film "Hostel" that says: "Inspired by actual events." In an interview I read with the director Eli Roth, he said that basically he heard through some friends that there was a website where you could pay a certain amount to kill a person. And voila, his story idea was born. So I guess the question is, what the fuck constitutes an actual event? And what constitutes being "based" on one?

I think that if you are in any line of work, including being a writer, you always make decisions about your craft that will give you the best chance of prospering (both financially, critically and otherwise). Is Stephen King "changing his art" by throwing out a character that his publisher thinks won't sell to the masses? Of course not.

In the case of Frey, the guy wrote a story about a drug addict whose life went to utter shit and how he recovered his dignity. Changing details or tweaking something to fit market conditions is not changing the art, and if it is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. In fact, I think they call it PR/marketing. Whether or not it's true is also immaterial.

Methinks people need to chill out and get off the guy's back.

 
At 2:45 PM, Blogger TripleJ said...

I do agree with Marty.

I see it like this. You're single. You go out one night wearing a blue shirt, you come home alone. You go out the next night wearing a black shirt, an attractive person compliments your shirt, you go home together. Weeks later ... you're single again and the same person. Are you going to reach for the blue shirt or the black shirt?

Not that simple but Frey is definitely not a case like even JT Leroy.

As Marty said - life (and literature) have far worse offenders than now-extremely wealthy Mr. Frey.

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

I need to read this book, as it sounds intriguing with or without the controversey.

I would opt for the black shirt ever time TripleJ.

 
At 6:27 PM, Blogger JMH said...

I think Henry Rollins said it best on his blog today:

"If you get your reading list from a fucking talk show host, you deserve any disappointment that comes your way. NEXT."

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger Luke said...

In the words of Guy Forsyth: "We used to dream about heroes / but now it's just how to beat the system...Because nothing says "America" like getting away with it."

 
At 12:26 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Someone sent me this review:

http://www.exile.ru/2003-May-29/
book_review.html

 
At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

couple thoughts and a caveat..i have not read this book, tho i've scanned through it, and i've not read "my friend leonard" either...that said, here are thoughts --

art shmart -- this brouhaha is not about the quality of the book itself or frey as a writer. it's irrelevant. he could be faulkner or he could be grisham (to pick two native sons of the south) and if he were grisham that doesn't mean he's any more "culpable" and if he were faulkner that doesn't mean his "lies" are any more forgiveable.

one issue is labeling and whether or not that matters -- if you call something a "memoir" does that mean it needs be factual or at least an honest representation of what the writer remembers? i think the expectation is generally yes. i also don't think you can skate through that issue by saying that despite making stuff up, the "essential truth of the book" remains intact. There's essential truth in a peanuts cartoon, but that doesn't mean that it's factual. so what does "memoir" mean? if it means not only are events compressed or lengthened for dramatic effect, but also events are made up for dramatic effect, is that ok? is it still a memoir if only non-essential stuff is made up? why make up non-essential stuff anyway? is it a memoir if 70% is still accurate? 50%? does it need to be 100% and anything less is fiction? if there's a disclaimer does it matter?

for example, there's the whole incident of james frey being in jail for 87 days while his friend "Lili's" grandmother dies. the whole drama is that Lili's calling him to say i really need you here and he's saying, i want to be there, but i can't be there, i'm in jail, but i'll be out soon -- 24 hours - just hang on, just a little longer...and then he does get out and rushes to her, but she's gone and hanged herself and he's moments too late. and now, of course, it turns out he was in jail for a few hours and during this episode he was actually in north carolina sort of "working through some things" on his own. i think there's a markedly different impact on the reader if you think it actually happened versus if you know it's not true.

does it mean if someone writes a memoir about their experience in a nazi concentration camp or a soviet gulag or hiding in some attic in holland during world war 2 that we shouldn't care whether or not those things actually happened and it's ok if they didn't because the "essential truth" is intact? is it ok for other people to say "it probably didn't happen like that -- the writer pumped it up for dramatic reasons and the publisher's PR arm pushed it out that way -- so in reality, the nazis or soviet's weren't that bad --it's just the writer trying to protray him/herself as tougher than s/he really is".

Should the writer and the publisher be accountable for how they label things? If something comes in as "memoir", is there a responsibility by the author to say "hey, editor, you should know that this part isn't true and this didn't happen this way and I changed these people's names because i want to protect their privacy"? is there a responsibility to the editor/publisher to fact-check? I think yes. It doesn't seem like these incidents were tough to fact-check.

i think there's a complacency around facts in general. there's this fogginess where things are sort of true or mostly true and that's ok because it's just a memoir or it's just marketing or just politics or it's just news as entertainment or it's just the way things are and you're naive to expect anything else. i read some poll that said people in their 20s think the daily show is the most accurate source of news out there. Stats like that make you wonder what the fuck?

there's a lot of cynism out there -- and a real lack of skepticism -- that puts the blame on the public with a kind of "how can you be so stupid? publishers and writers only want to make money and if you fell for their exaggerations, shame on you." it's a cynism that doesn't hold the writer's/publishers/politicians/etc accountable. or that says, it's impossible to hold them accountable, so assume everyone's lying.

it's part of that intellectual laziness that equates listening to both npr and fox news with wanting to get "both sides of the story" -- as tho they both make stuff up and it's ok because as long you hear lies from both sides of an argument you're "well-informed".

Bottom line -- i think truth in labeling matters a lot and authors/journalists/politicians/newsmakers should be held accountable for what they hold out as true or factual or accurate.

ok -- my $.02...

 
At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read this book when it was first released, my copy may even be a first edition.
when litkicks was still a message boad, they had a what are you reading section, someone was reading MLP.
Everybody agreed that it was a ripoff of albert camus the stranger, but i read it anywasy, and it further framed the truth that it was a ripoff of The Stranger.

examples:
first half of the book was written in the same style
main chacter didnt believe in god
the whole thing with the preist

but its also kinda funny that an address to this site
notjackkerouac
would be talking about a book suppoesed to be entirly true, when kerouac might nt have gone as far, but still did the same thing

 
At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice poke at the irony...

 
At 12:27 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

So when is The Cure gonna do a song about "A Million Little Pieces"?

 
At 10:11 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

It's interesting that in all this brouhaha no one has brought up Alex Haley's "Roots," the purported history of Haley's family and 70's cultural phenomenon, which was later proven to have some fictionalized portions in it.

 

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