So I hear about this book. I see the cover. A hand covered in sugar candy. Cool. I start to see it everywhere. People are toting it around Boston, it’s in the backseat of my friend’s car, it’s on my sister’s floor and katsumi’s father’s coffeetable. It’s everywhere.
It’s about drugs.
I have to read it.
I am definitely one of those people who loves a good “train wreck” story. When I was younger I would devour books like “The Best Little Girl in the World” (anorexia), “Go Ask Alice” (drug abuse), and Sylvia Plath’s unparalleled delicacy; The Bell Jar” (complete mental breakdown). Draw your own conclusions as to what that says about me, but the fact remains that a real train wreck makes for good reading.
So my picking up James Frey’s “memoir” had nothing to do with the controversy over it’s myriad exaggerations and falsehoods. I wanted to ogle the wreckage of his character’s life. I had heard such great and horrible things about this book – I was ready to be blown away. I was ready to be shocked and awed.
Well, I was awed by one thing: HOW MUCH IT SUCKED.
Fact #1. The book starts out WITH HIM IN REHAB. Now that’s boring. If I want a good train wreck novel, I want to be there for the crash. None of this flashback bullshit. But ok, so he detoxes and that’s pretty cool, I guess. And then there’s a few drug dreams that are… well… mildly entertaining. And the storied dentist scene was pretty exciting, if completely ridiculous. After having two unanesthetized root canals, this guy vomits all over himself and then proceeds to have a meaningful conversation wtih his oral surgeon, calmly and soberly thanking him for the help. Which brings me to my next point.
Fact #2. The dialogue is completely unbelievable. Anyone who read this book and DIDN’T think he was making shit up had to be damaged, because nobody talks like these characters do. Ever.
two hardened junkies approach each other in the hall
I see you’re cold.
yes, I am
here, have my jacket
thank you very much
no, i really appreciate your giving me this jacket. it means a lot to me.
it means a lot to me that you have it.
WHAT THE HELL IS THE DEAL WITH THAT. Nobody talks that way, number one, and number two, even if people did hypothetically speak that way, nobody could remember that dialogue in such great detail. So this is the kind of crap you have to put up with in between the cheap flashbacks.
Fact #3. He does this really annoying thing where he Capitalizes random Words like Mother and Drugs. And while I understand that it could be an interesting Device used to give Weight to Things, after awhile it just seems overused and meaningless. Also, a la Chuck Palachniuk in Survivor, he shuns the use of “quotation marks” around “dialogue”, as well as any pronouns Identifying Who might be Talking. Which was cool when Chuck Palachniuk did it but is not so effective when blatantly overused and beaten into submission as it is here.
Fact #4: most of the book is just really freaking boring. Things get kind of exciting during that “root canal scene”, but for the most part it’s just this guy sitting around eating shit, puking up parts of his insides, and having dull yet cloyingly heartfelt conversations with his addicted peers. At one point someone gives him a copy of the Tao te Ching, which provides fodder for a solid 20 pages of simpering and banal internal monologue.
To wit: “the book feeds me, gives me life. It makes me warm and nourishes me.”
That’s where I start to puke up parts of my insides. I read the Tao in college, and loved it so much I wanted to get it tattooed in chinese characters down my spine. But I didn’t run around spewing cheesy prose about it.
So “a million little pieces” in a nutshell:
Who the hell cares if it’s true or not. It’s very badly written, totally unbelievable, and mostly quite dull.
I’m selling my copy on Ebay in exchange for a strong drink.