ORIGINALLY WRITTEN SHELLEY PLETT
“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” -Stephen King
Author James Frey’s memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” is holding tight in its 17th week on the New York Times Best-seller List. The book is touted as a raw account of Frey’s salacious former life as a drug addict and criminal.
Problem is, an investigative Web site called The Smoking Gun revealed that many of Frey’s claims don’t exactly jive with police and court records or with witnesses’ recollections.
He’s accused of exaggerating and inventing some of the most dramatic parts of his life story.
A memoir is supposed to be true, revealing intimate details, ugly or pretty. The honesty should leave the reader with something-understanding, empathy, hope. A memoir is an autobiography. It’s non-fiction.
At least in theory.
Regardless, the popularity of “A Million Little Pieces” hasn’t changed. If anything, all the controversial hype has most likely boosted sales.
What has changed is the distinction between fact and fiction and how seriously readers will take this type of book.
Frey claims he presents the facts of his past as he recalls them. Lucky me-that guideline just bumped my life up a couple of notches on the “interesting” scale.
I think I’ll write a memoir, too.
The opening paragraph will be in a hospital as I prepare to have my second child. I’m positioned on the delivery table as nurses jam IVs into my arms and frantically ask each other where the doctor is.
My contractions are moments apart. As the pain builds again, I look at my husband. His eyes. What is happening to his eyes? I can’t speak, but only stare in horror as his irises turn blood red. Yellow fangs slowly protrude from beneath his top lip.
Suddenly my eyes are drawn to the far wall where a dim light casts a shadow of his wicked tail flickering around me. My senses heighten and I know, in the midst of this anesthetic-free contraction, my husband is the devil and I am about to produce a demon spawn.
You see, labor can be difficult. If I had been asked at that exact moment if my husband was Satan, I would have said absolutely, 100 percent, yes.
Now that it’s over, I know better. There is no little demon seed living in my house and my husband’s not so bad either. But if I was inclined to write a memoir-this is what I remember to be true and it’s going in the book.
Similarly, Frey has admitted to “embellishing for dramatic effect” but still stands by his book, as does his publisher. Never mind that his manuscript was rejected when first submitted as a fiction novel. Once it was revised into a memoir, it became a little more interesting.
Frey defends what he calls the “emotional truth” of “A Million Little Pieces.” He also wrote a sequel, “My Friend Leonard.” But that one includes a disclaimer stating “some sequences and details of events have been changed.”
Fiction books are bound to be based on some kind of truth. But it’s those pesky parts the authors make up that drop them into the fiction arena.
The impact of a book isn’t determined by its section in the bookstore. But truth is truth-and fiction is not.
Why not just call it what it is?