The Ugly Truth; When James Frey Embellished His Rap Sheet in His Best-Selling Memoir, Did He Cross the Line into Fiction?

By Peyser, Marc | Newsweek, January 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Ugly Truth; When James Frey Embellished His Rap Sheet in His Best-Selling Memoir, Did He Cross the Line into Fiction?


Peyser, Marc, Newsweek


Byline: Marc Peyser (With Karen Springen and Jac Chebatoris)

James Frey is not a guy who backs away from a fight. He's got a pit bull. He's got a mean tongue, too. A few years ago he told a reporter that Dave Eggers's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" "pissed me off because a book that I thought was mediocre was being hailed as the best book written by the best writer of my generation." Frey even has a tattoo on his arm that reads ftbsitttd, which, hosed off, stands for "F--- the bulls---, it's time to throw down." So it was surprising to see Frey sitting meek as a schoolboy last week, being grilled by Larry King about allegations he'd made up incidents in his best-selling drug-addiction memoir, "A Million Little Pieces." Frey admitted to 18 pages of "embellishments," which he rationalized as "less than 5 percent of the total book." He tried to sound tough, but he came across as more pussycat than pit bull. He even had his mother, Lynne, at his side. "The important aspect of a memoir is getting at the essential truth," said Frey, 36. "I stand by the essential truth of my book... I don't think I'd change anything."

Not that it mattered what Frey said. In book publishing today, one person's opinion matters most, and with one minute left on King's show, she called in. "I understand we have Oprah on the phone," King announced--and you could hear Lynne Frey gasp. Winfrey selected "A Million Little Pieces" as an "Oprah" book last September, helping it sell more than 3.5 million copies. Would Winfrey stand by Frey now? At first, it was hard to tell; she started by complaining that the publisher should have checked the book's facts better. Frey sat still, waiting. Finally, Oprah cut to the chase. "The underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me," she said. "And I know that..." She said some stuff after that, but it was hard to pay attention. Frey's blinking, almost prayerful look of relief was amazing, as was his mother's applause. Oprah had rehabbed Frey's reputation.

"Little Pieces" clearly won't disappear. In fact, the dust-up propelled it back up the best-seller lists. But it has touched off a literary tempest. For the last decade or so, memoirs have been the cash machines of publishing houses. From "Angela's Ashes" to "Sleepers," a genre that had been dominated by the likes of Lee Iacocca has taken on the sexiness that used to be associated with big-book fiction. Will readers keep buying memoirs if writers admit juicing some facts? It doesn't help that Augusten Burroughs is being sued for fraud and libel by the family he writes about in "Running With Scissors." Or that stories published last week allege that JT LeRoy, a novelist who claimed to draw on his past as a male prostitute for books like "Sarah," isn't really a prostitute--or a man. Sure, writers make things up for a living. But how much invention can go into a memoir before it crosses the line into fiction? "Manufacturing events wholesale is just morally wrong," says Mary Karr, author of her own memoir, "The Liar's Club." "I think this calls into question every aspect of this guy--who he is and everything in his damn book. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Ugly Truth; When James Frey Embellished His Rap Sheet in His Best-Selling Memoir, Did He Cross the Line into Fiction?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.