James Frey: The Biggest Liar in Publishing?

It is generally concluded that writers are professional liars (and, in at least one case, overhyped dupes who manage to fool the literary world). However, when a writer pens a memoir, is there not a certain expectation of truth? Even if the details are fudged a bit here and there, or entirely fabricated, shouldn’t a memoir writer ground his story in some rudimentary reality?

The Smoking Gun launched a six-week investigation and found that James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, had fabricated many elements of his alleged criminal past. Frey, it seems, managed to fool Oprah (and, admittedly, this litblogger). What’s interesting is that instead of responding directly to the allegations, Frey remarked that this was the “latest attempt to discredit me….I stand by my book, and my life, and I won’t dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response.”

According to TSG, Frey’s been dignifying it all in other ways. He had the court records pertaining to several incidents purged. There were no records from the prosecuting attorney, who kept a record “on any case that came in whether or not it resulted in felony charges.” Despite daily episodes of recurrent vomiting and bleeding and addiction, Frey somehow managed to graduate from Denison University in four years. But most interestingly, the alleged “cracked-out” incident that threw Frey into rehab simply involved Frey with an open bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. No billy cubs flung, no .29 blood-alcohol content, and certainly no crack.

When we consider that Frey originally tried to sell his memoir as a novel, one wonders precisely whether much of A Million Little Pieces was actually changed. Indeed, in hindsight, it’s quite interesting to see how trusting the literary world was of Frey’s astonishing memoir, which was billed as the tell-all memoir to end all tell-all memoirs. Has the publishing atmosphere proven so antiseptic in its subject matter that only a sensationalized memoir can polarize its attentions?

[UPDATE: Amazingly, this whole question of “the truth” has inspired Neal Pollack to serve up the funniest thing he’s written since he became a humorless family man and told people to shut up about a conflict that has been almost universally acknowledged as a bona-fide clusterfuck without reasonable justification. Perhaps there’s hope for Pollack yet!]


  1. I read the book . At least he is doing what it takes to get ahead. Since when has telling the truth ever helped the individual telling it? He wrote a book and it got out. He is a hero. In this world where humans compete with humans for scarce resourses, instead of cooperating to get them, can an honest guy ever get ahead? you tell me how, you tell me. I commend James Frey for doing the right thing, even if is the wrong thing.

    Seems he was everybodies hero when he really did hurt people, now that we find out he is only an author doing what it takes to get published some people are aghast. I say, lie away James, help yourself out, no one else will. The reality of the world we live in. Do what it takes.If you want to be honest,expect to keep flipping burgers. As Aristotle once said, to be human is to be political, to be political is to lie. To be more than human is to be honest, and that means roll up your sleaves and get ready to flip burgers for those politically endowed.
    The truth is that all this bad publicity, even on CNN is really good for james. Now people will have to buy the book to find out what all this is about. Look, the guy is a success story and we should commend him.

    I am one of the 3 billiion people on earth who is really broke and if writing a piece of fiction that CNN will report on will get some food in my belly, well, i’ll do it damit, i’ll do it.

    how about this. the top 5 wealthiest people in the US have more accumulated wealth than half the population on the Globe.

    what do people expect from people who only want a little piece in order to live?


  2. Yeah, you’re one of the really broke people on earth, which is why you have internet access. Broke is no clean water, no hospital within 50 miles, no guarantee of three square meals a day… and definitely no internet.

    But, as for James Frey… hero? That’s getting a bit extreme, I think. He definitely exploited the deaths of two young girls in order to spice up his story and make many millions of dollars. I personally did not read his memoir, as I have never cared about that kind of confessional stuff, but I think a lot of people will be upset, as they will feel their emotions have been jerked around. He lied extravagantly and often, right to the faces of people who were deeply affected by his fabrications. It’s a little sick, frankly… don’t you think?

    Plus, the writing is really crap anyway. I can’t believe the editors left in all of his Misplaced Capitalizations and sentences with six or seven and’s.

  3. I know this site hates me for some unknown reason to me but I’m going to comment anyway. I looked at james frey’s book at borders and it looked pretty coherent and normal writing. I know crack heads. I’m from Youngstown, they are all about. A person that does crack as far as I can tell has extreme problems expressing ideas and talking coherently. A person that was on crack for a long time could never write a coherent book. Also, every crack head I’ve ever met was already at least a little nuts before ever hitting the pipe. Think about it. You gotta be a little nuts and fucked up already to do crack.

  4. So. I read his book this week and gave it to a friend. we were repulsed, intrigued, engaged and finally sickened by the great rehab dog and pony show Frey trotted out. However, I would be remiss if I didnt also say that it was a good show and I definitely got my money’s worth.
    So. He is a writer who spiced up his memoir, albeit in some very tacky and vulgar ways, and now everyone thinks he is Satan’s minion. BFD. I believe the guy is both a brilliant marketing machine and a recovering addict. The heart of the story rings true, even if the facts are skewed.

  5. I’m glad I read the book before the media hype. In retrospect it’s not the criminal activity that stands out in my memory of the book but the fact that James remains clean and what he went through to get there. Congradulations. One needs only to open your local newspaper-daily, to see the destruction caused by the leathal weapon called drugs. It would be pleasing to see James’s sucess be rewarding not only in his wallet but to society. Remember, we have seen our “most powerful” make mistakes. Settle down-and back off on the lynching.

  6. get real…the book is 99 percent lies…he didnt ever even spend 1 whole day in jail, ever..he was another over privaliged rich kid…popular in school…on the high school soccer team…hes probably not even alcoholic . just a kid who got caught driving after he had a few beers..a real desperado…lol .i think its dangerous for him to run down 12 step programs ….and then tell people to “just hold on”..thats the same advise as “just say no” that has also been proven useless…

  7. This is interesting. I had a ongoing battle with crack cocaine that lasted over 15 years. I was sober almost six years, then a year or so, on and on. I am clean now and have found the tools necessary to keep me this way.
    My brother gave me Mr. Frey’s book, which I admit effected me deeply at first. That internal monologue that he carries through the book revealing the self-loathing, fear, and horror caused by addiction is right on. Yet, somewhere along reading his book my own well-tuned bullshit meter began to go off and my interest waned. Somehow I knew him proclaiming this as a “true” memoir was probably bs. There was just too much that I know from experience longer than his with addictions that I figured was highly exagerrated And, evidently, it was.
    I do feel manipulated. Am I glad he is sober? Yes. Very. Do I hope that others may have benefited from his book by helping people understand others and themselves who may have substance abuse problems yes. But for him to be some kind of pillar of hope to addicts and their families I believe is very dangerous. Dangerous because recovery, and I am not some 12 step junkie who believes ‘my way or the highway’ type of recovery, is based on your ability to be honest. And to change your ‘novel’ you are shopping into a memoir in order to sell it is dishonest. And mostly to yourself, and addiction feeds from that self-deception, that part of ourselves, addict or not, that deceives and denies us our true spirit and selves.
    And to the guy who says he knows crack heads and they could never write anything coherent, you’re an idiot. I am a playwright and published writer that was a desperate, paronoid, pathetic crack head who ended up on suicide watch in jails in two different states. We recover, we have things to say, we are coherent.
    All good wishes

  8. I am reading the book. I’m also a recovering alcoholic. Lots rings true, lots feels like a lie. Alcoholics and addicts are liars by definition. Could he have been that sick, and come back to articulately tell the tale? Yes. Is it full of fabrications? Maybe, probably.

    Regardless, the hoopla about – is it fact or fiction? – is a non issue in my way of thinking. How many Memoirs have you read where the author is showing you what is real vs what he/she wants you to see?

    Have you read Augusten Burrows? Do you believe his childhood is all he said it was? Does it really matter? He got the word out, and lots of us listened.

  9. I very much agree with most of you.^^ I am 100% on James Frey’s side, because he is a writer and I loved his books. Lying is not a good thing at all…This point is obvious. The line between exaggeration and lies is very thin when it comes to books. I thought the book was great, fact or fiction makes no difference to me. I hope the book gets reprinted with out the ‘memoir’ part there and a disclaimer, because true or false he did go through an addiction and this book has apparently inspired millions, and hopefully will inspire millions more to overcome their addictions.

  10. I just finished this book and I thought it is very good. Being the wife of a recovering crack and speed addict I never understood what my husbands problem was, why was he choosing this path, how could he do this to me and his three children. This book made me understand a lot. It made me laugh, cry be angry be heartbroken but most of all it heplped me understand. The things being brought up, the train accident, the girls death, the amount of days in jail, how bad ass he is or isn’t is not as important to some as others . He did not go on forever about these incidences so

  11. As a wife of a recovering crack and speed addict this book was so helpful to me to be able to understand for the first time in ten years the other person’s side. At a time when I was so confused and sad about my own situation this book came through. I stand by this book, this man James Frey and any one in this position who is trying to help themselves. These few exagerations are not enough to distort my view don’t let it destroy yours. Learn to think for yourself and learn from this book.

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