Frey, James 1969–
Frey, James 1969–
PERSONAL: Born 1969; married; wife's name, Maya (an advertising executive); children: one daughter. Education: Attended Denison University.
CAREER: Writer, memoirist, and screenwriter. Has worked variously as a camp counselor, a bouncer, a film director, a skateboard salesman, a picture-framer, a film producer, a busboy, a hotel security guard, and as costumed characters such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in department store promotions.
AWARDS, HONORS: Hermosa Beach Film Festival, best film (director), 1998, and No Dance Film Festival, best director, 1999, both for Sugar: The Fall of the West.
Kissing a Fool (screenplay), MCA/Universal Pictures, 1998.
Sugar: The Fall of the West (screenplay), Next Generation, 1998.
A Million Little Pieces (memoir), N.A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
My Friend Leonard (memoir), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Author and memoirist James Frey reveals the brutal, deeply harrowing side of both addiction and recovery in the detailed accounts of his struggles, A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard.
At the beginning of A Million Little Pieces, the twenty-three-year-old Frey has been an alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three. He awakens on a plane, not knowing where he has come from or where he is going, covered in a mixture of leaked and expelled bodily fluids, missing four front teeth and bearing a broken nose and a nickel-sized hole through his cheek. He is completely bereft of hope, physically and mentally, worn to his lowest possible point by his multiple and converging addictions. He shortly finds out that his battered state was due to a face-first fall down a fire es-cape and that he is on a plane to meet with his parents in Chicago, who plan to send him to a rehab clinic in rural Minnesota since identified as Hazelden. The bulk of the book describes in raw detail the exhausting, soul-wrenching work of kicking a half-lifetime's worth of destructive habits and physical addictions. "Frey's lacerating, intimate debut chronicles his recovery from multiple addictions with adrenal rage and sprawling prose," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.
Frey's approach to his recovery immediately puts him at odds with the staff of Hazelden. He refuses to commit to the required twelve-step program, declines to surrender an iota of his life to any higher power, and declares that he will beat his addictions on his own terms and in his own way. He takes full responsibility for the condition he is in and for the person who may emerge after treatment. He refuses to see his addiction as a disease. "What sets Pieces apart from other memoirs about 12-stepping is Frey's resistance to the concept of a higher power," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
He also describes the many characters he meets during treatment, including Leonard, an affable mobster; Lily, a heroin-addicted ex-prostitute with whom he falls in love; and a variety of other lost and abandoned people who forge deep friendships in the crucible of treatment that will lead to lives changed by recovery or doomed by addictions that cannot be overcome. "Frey discovers that, aside from being some of the most tormented souls on the planet, these are the nicest people he's ever met; together, they shakily plumb the depths," observed Spectator contributor William Leith.
"Starkly honest and mincing no words, Frey bravely faces his struggles head on, and readers will be mesmerized by his account of his ceaseless battle against addiction," commented Kristine Huntley, writing in Booklist. "What really separates this title from other rehab memoirs, apart from the author's young age, is his literary prowess," observed School Library Journal reviewer Jamie Watson. Library Journal contributor Rachel Collins commented that "this raw and intense book reveals a rare author whose approach to memoir writing is as original as his method to getting straight." Jennifer Reese, writing in Entertainment Weekly, noted that "all the ferocious energy and will Frey once devoted to self-destruction he turned toward fixing himself. Frey's prose is muscular and tough, ideal for conveying extreme physical anguish and steely determination" to succeed. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "a remarkable memoir of addiction and recovery." Louis Bayard, writing on the Salon.com Web site, stated that "if this bullheaded, lionhearted book doesn't reach the level of masterpiece, it's not for lack of trying. Frey has devised a rolling, pulsing style that really moves—an acquired taste, perhaps, but undeniably striking."
In My Friend Leonard, Frey resumes his story after gaining his sobriety and leaving treatment. The book begins with him in jail, serving his time for offenses committed while he was in the grip of his multiple addictions. When he is released, he heads to Chicago to see Lily, but learns that she has committed suicide only hours before. Torn with grief, Frey once again finds himself teetering on the edge of the abyss. However, before he can descend, he renews his friendship with avuncular mobster Leonard, who offers him financial support and the occasional simple odd job, usually courier work, which is likely illegal. The memoir dwells on Frey's relationship with Leonard and the contradictory elements of the man's life of crime and stoic dedication to his friends. Leonard teaches Frey that addictive substances are not the answer to any problem, and that enjoying life and its simple pleasures are its own best reward. Though there are still tragedies to endure, with Leonard's support, financial assistance, and genuine affection, Frey manages to maintain the discipline of his recovery and avoid any relapses into addiction.
"Frey's extraordinary relationship with Leonard is alive, a flesh-and-blood bond forged in the agony of rehab and sustained through honesty and trust," commented a writer in Publishers Weekly. "As smart as it is heartfelt, this tribute to friendship is a far sunnier book than Frey's debut," remarked Newsweek reviewer Malcolm Jones. A Kirkus Reviews reviewer called the book "a fine, grim tale, full of smarting immediacy, with stylistic tics—repetitions, an aversion to commas, run-ons—that skip close to the irritating but lend a musicality and remind the reader to pay attention."
In 2006 a Smoking Gun article reported that parts of Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces were fabricated. Frey did not confirm or deny the allegations, although the book's publisher, Doubleday, an imprint of Random House, offered refunds to its direct customers. In addition, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who had chosen A Million Little Pieces for her popular book club, defended the overall message of the memoir as valuable despite any suspected embellishments. Later, as more evidence indicated the extent of the fabrications, Doubleday reported that new copies of Frey's memoir would contain a note with an explanation of the contro-versy and an apology; the note was also posted on the Random House web site. Frey's literary manager Kassie Evashevski with Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, announced that she would no longer represent Frey. Ultimately, Winfrey apologized to her viewers for initially defending Frey's memoir and confronted him about the inaccuracies on her show. She also officially removed the author from her book club. Due to the scandal surrounding the book, Frey was dropped by his publisher.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Frey, James, A Million Little Pieces, N.A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
Frey, James, My Friend Leonard, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, April 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 1432.
Entertainment Weekly, April 4, 2003, Karen Valby, "James Frey Does Not Care What You Think about Him (Please Love Him): The Author of the Memoir A Million Little Pieces Kicked Crack and Alcohol on His Own Terms. Now, He Wants to Kick the Literary World's Ass the Same Way," profile of James Frey, p. 60; April 25, 2003, Jennifer Reese, "Straight Story: With Unflinching Honesty, James Frey Describes the Filth and Fury of His Substance Abuse and Recovery," review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 152; June 17, 2005, Thom Geier, review of My Friend Leonard, p. 86.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 204; May 1, 2005, review of My Friend Leonard, p. 523.
Library Journal, March 1, 2003, Rachel Collins, review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 106; April 15, 2005, Dale Raben, review of My Friend Leonard, p. 99.
Miami Herald, June 29, 2005, Andy Diaz, "In His Latest Memoir, James Frey Can't Make the Reader Care Whether He's Drunk or Sober," review of My Friend Leonard.
New Statesman (1996), May 26, 2003, Julian Keeling, "The Yellow Gloom of Sleepless Nights," review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 52.
Newsweek, June 27, 2005, Malcolm Jones, "Friends in Low Places: The Author of A Million Little Pieces Gets Happy," review of My Friend Leonard, p. 65.
People, June 27, 2005, "Great Reads," review of My Friend Leonard, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 2003, Charlotte Abbott, "One in a Million: In His Debut, James Frey Rewrites the Recovery Memoir with Hubris to Spare," review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 17; March 10, 2003, review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 67; August 18, 2003, John F. Baker, "Riverhead Gets Frey Sequel," p. 14; March 28, 2005, review of My Friend Leonard, p. 64.
School Library Journal, August, 2003, Jamie Watson, review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 188.
Spectator, May 24, 2003, William Leith, "Plumbing the Lower Depths," review of A Million Little Pieces, p. 40.
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/ (January 12, 2006), "Some 'Pieces' Buyers Offered Refund"; "Winfrey Stands Behind 'Pieces' Author."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (April 19, 2003), Louis Bayard, "The Sound Bite and the Fury," profile of James Frey.