Well, there's a big flap in the news about James Frey and his boffo runaway bestseller "A Million Little Pieces." Seems that this book has been cast as non-fiction, but some of Mr. Frey's portrayals of his addictions and related behavior may have been exaggerated--he may not have spent three months in prison. Big deal. Besides, I read the book and he said jail, not prison. Big difference. Biiig difference.
No one seems to dispute Mr. Frey's serious addiction and alcoholism and his battle with the rage. No one disputes at all the value of relationship in a person's quest to change their life. But the details of the drunken/high brawls--please! Let's get right after those and see that everything lines up, exactly perfectly.
One thing emphasized prominently is that the book in its softcover edition was given the nod for Oprah's Book Club. Lord have mercy. You just don't wanna be bullshitting Oprah. Ever. Frey hitched up his britches and headed over to Larry King's last night for a go of it and as it happened, the O herself called in. She said, "Although some of the facts have been questioned … that underlying message of the redemption of James Frey still resonates with me, and I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read the book," Winfrey said in a surprise on-air call to CNN's "Larry King Live," on which Frey was a guest. "Whether car wheels rolled up on a curb … is irrelevant to me."
She's on. She's ON. I read this book over New Year's and it is a powerful story. A genuinely compelling story about addiction, addictive behavior, chronic emotional pain, anger, denial, primal vulnerability and yes, redemption. It's deeply painful, utterly racking, the story of a visceral response to a fundamental system failure in a young life. It is the story of a big, big disconnect. You cannot read it any other way. It's a relationship story, too; him/her, mother/son, father/mother, father/son, him/him, they/him, he/they. Ultimately, maybe that's what I would class it: a relationship story--and in this story, you get by with a little help from your friends. James Frey decided that somehow he would find a way to save himself, to be a friend and to hang on. The rest, all the rest, is just details.
I have been thinking about the two time convicted felon that I have been talking with on a regular basis. I have been seing him regularly in an effort to support, encourage and guide him as he tries to find a place in the community to live a life free from crime and addiction. He used cocaine for the first time when he was 10; his mother gave it to him and showed him how. He was arrested for the first time that year, too. He was picked up at the old Greyhound Bus Depot, now a property of Cowles Publishing, for prostitution. Had to support himself. He is just 30 and he has spent 10.5 years of his life in prison--not jail, but prison. He has been off heroin for 6.5 years and when released from prison in November, stated his goal for the first month was to keep his job. We had a coffee,cookies, and candles birthday party that week and he closed his eyes for the longest of times, making his wish. His second week out, he was frustrated about car troubles, getting back an forth to work, and making his paycheck stretch to cover his living expenses. The third week he was out, he told me he was scared. Scared of being able to live on the outside, to work and hold down a job and to keep it all together. The fourth week, he disappeared. No one's heard from him since. I do not know where he is.
In the hustle and mayhem of giving him a Christmas stocking stuffed with cookies and fudge and gift certificates that fourth week, I didn't take the time to give him a parting shot: hang on, hang on, hang on. Don't give up and don't give in, B. You can do this. Instead, I said, see ya when I get back from Canada. I always gave him a parting shot and something he could do for me that week. But not on this day. On this day he smiled a really big smile. He was happy and excited because he got both white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and a gift certificate to The Onion ("they have some good things there"). (I recalled what King David said: here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the Lord dwells in a tent.) I had absolutely no clue; I was taking care of the details, and seeing that they were lined up, exactly perfectly. The essence of the moment was lost as I checked my list off: done, done, delivered, next. I did not leave him with his homework. I did not remind him Hang on, B. Hang on, B. Hang on. You can do this. The power of our relationship was mired in details for the moment and faltered.
I hope for redemption for B, and for me. The night is dark, the air is cold and wet and tomorrow is promised to no one. Those are the only real details.
The 'Kan EWA