Sunday, January 29, 2006

Freying Frying — Bookfraud's Inferno

Update: Some very angry readers are suing Frey & Co. for fraud. It's enough to make you buy the book, or join the bar.

Update Part 2!: Frey's agent has disavowed the boy's claims that "A Million Little Pieces" was shopped first as a novel, saying Frey peddled it as a "true as shit!" memoir the entire time. She then dumped him as a client. Perhaps she doesn't deserve a place at the bottom of the pit, just three-fourths of the way down instead...

The last thing I will ever write about James Frey (I hope and pray):

Last night over dinner, I entered into an extended conversation of who was to blame in this whole James Frey debacle, and who was culpable besides the author himself.

At least one suspect is Frey's publisher, who got a major spanking on Oprah Winfrey’s show, as part of her public denunciation of the lies in Frey's book, which has sold more copies in a couple of years than “The Sound and the Fury” has in over 70, which brings a wicked smile to all of us Faulkner fans that at least Bill won the Nobel Prize.

Oprah (for she is One identified by a first name) had promoted “A Million Little Pieces” for her Book Club, defended the man on Larry King, and finally got wise following a cascade of bad publicity from the professional class of snark-meisters. (I’m sure that my reptilian, status-seeking thoughts on the matter ultimately changed her mind). Frey, for reasons only attributable to a masochism or neediness so deep that he’d do anything for fame, went back on Oprah’s show, where she made Frey feel more uncomfortable than the root canal without anesthesia that he never had. You almost felt sorry for the guy.

A writer's Paradise?

The regular readers of this space, all three of you, know that I am obsessed with Dante’s Inferno, so much that it made me think of conversion once or twice. Since I am convinced that the major players in this fiasco have a special place in the crucible of utter damnation — and since the dinner conversation convinced me that many, many people were involved — I felt it would be fitting to end this discussion with putting the particulars in their proper place, which is to say, their proper place Dante’s nine circles of Hell.

Abandon all hope ye who read from here.

First Circle/Limbo– Oprah Winfrey

She gets rescued from the burning pit with her angry renunciation on TV. This place is reserved for pre-Christ Jews, Greeks, Romans, and the like. Homer, Horace, and Ovid are hanging out in Limbo, so Oprah has plenty of candidates for expanding her Book Club. I would like to think that Limbo holds out the possibility of Paradise, and I don’t think Oprah has to worry about getting her wings.

Second Circle /The Lustful — The gullible public

The reading public’s desire for a book that relates stories of pain and redemption has become so all-encompassing, that the more incredible the story, the more incredulous the public has become. We’re lusting for redemption, and we make the same mistake over, and over, and over. (See LeRoy, JT; Pelzer, Dave; "Nasdijj;" Khouri, Norma). It’s almost enough to make me want to write a book about my addiction to heroin and the gutter-splashing violence that marked my youth, adolescence, and adulthood, and how I turned it all around. I might even make you believe it’s true.

Third Circle/The Gluttonous — Larry King

Hello, this is Larry King. Tonight we’ve got James Frey and his mother on to refute charges that he lied in his memoirs, “A Billion Little Pieces.” I’ll ask penetrating questions that will get right to the heart of the matter. Maybe my fifth wife will call in. Maybe Angie will. Did I ever tell you I dated Angie Dickinson?

Hello, Omaha, Nebraska, you’re on Larry King. I don't know if James Frey smokes, but I’ve stopped smoking since my quintuple bypass. Did I ever say that once you have bypass surgery you’re likely to cry at a moment’s notice? Instead of smoking, I love the great taste of Cheetos, from Frito Lay. Jim, and I hope you don't mind me calling you that, did you eat Cheetos when you were trying to get the monkey off your back? Maybe that was what you vomited on yourself before you got on that plane. Do you like Cheetos, Mrs. Frey? I started out a Fritos man myself until they got rid of the Frito Bandito.

Jim, when you put the world “Pieces” in the title, were you thinking about bricks or tile? I’ve got a newly tiled backsplash in my CNN bathroom, real mosaic glass. Also, when you were in rehab, did you ever think about taking up knitting? I've found it a relaxing and refreshing way to spend the time. Hello, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you’re on Larry King. Hold on, I think we got my good friend Oprah on the line. Is it getting hot in here, or just me?

Fourth Circle/The Avaricious & the Prodigal — Book Reviewers

Aside from a few skeptical souls, book reviewers jumped en mass on “A Million Little Pieces,” riding it like the bandwagon they knew it would become. Many latched on this book and ended up in the rarified air of Blurbland (Which kind of surprises me, because if you want attention as a book critic, you need to be brilliant and lofty, like James Wood, or angry and fire-breathing, like Dale Peck). Just a few more questions here and there — or, heaven forbid, a little reporting on the part of these people — and the mess would have been avoided a full year before Her Oprahness made Frey a millionaire.

Fifth Circle/ The Wrathful and the Sullen — Cultural Critics

This perhaps is the most apt placement of souls, as cultural critics make a living off being high and mighty, never feeling humbled by the Almighty (See Fraud, Book). Not just book reviewers, these folks write about Culture and What I Think About It. From the lofty pretense of the New York Review of Books to the street fighters on Fox News, cultural critics will be jumping on Mr. Frey’s poor judgment as another way to unleash their wrath and sound their righteousness. It’s the kind of thing that both the Left and Right can denounce – lefties can say that Frey reflects acceptance of the fantasy world of George W. Bush and not the reality-based world, righties can say it reflects the permissivness and relativistic worldview of Bill Clinton and his lot, where everything goes for a buck or a toke.

Sixth Circle/Heretics — Nan Talese, Publisher, and Sean McDonald, Editor

I’ve never met Nan Talese, and I’m sure she’s a mild-mannered, super-intelligent person who would is as likely to commit heresy as I am to Dirty Dance with Rush Limbaugh. In addition, her husband Gay (no jokes) is one of the great New Journalists of the ‘60s, and authored perhaps the best celebrity profile ever written, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” And boy, did Oprah let her have it already.

I have also never met Sean McDonald, and know nothing about him. I’m sure he’s a hard-working, talented fellow as well.

In short, Nan Talese nor Sean McDonald doesn’t deserve to bunk with The Heretical, but what happened merits a long descent near the bottom of Hell, if only for a two-week holiday. Talese allowed a book so obviously fiction to be published as a memoir, but she went to the media time and again to defend Frey’s book, saying that it was legit because it was based on his “recollections.” This just prolonged the pain.

If I have to explain the guilt of McDonald, the book’s editor, you, too have a farm, and on your farm you’re not read-ing, E-I-E-I-O.

Seventh Circle/The Violent — Book publicists

It is at this point that I will willfully insert my experience in the publishing world. Though I don’t have a novel to publicize, I can tell you unequivocally that the Seventh Circle is crawling with publicists , who are yelling at anybody in earshot about the latest Candace Bushnell or Mitch Albom masterwork, ignoring books with literary merit that actually need marketing support. They gave James Frey the publicity he needed to get his pack of lies before critics and the public, not to mention inclusion into a certain book club.

Eighth Circle/Fraud —James Frey

Another self-explaining guest room at the Hotel Hell. I’ve already ripped James Frey a new one, and I feel almost guilty putting him here, for I gather his life will be a Hell on Earth henceforth. (My dinner conversant and I discussed the possibility that Frey may have repeated his Frauds so many times, he might believe them).

As a literary note, the Dante’s Eighth Circle has several sublevels, with special accommodations for Seducers, Panderers, and other such types. The bottom three sublevels are (in order), Fraudulent Counselors, Gossipers, and at the very bottom, Falsifiers of Metals, Persons, Coins, and yes, Words.

Ninth Circle/Treachery — Frey’s Literary Agent

(I’ve Googled this person, but I’m not listing her name because I fear retribution from the Big Agent in the Sky, or that mine will read this.)

For me, this is the coolest circle, where Satan himself resides, masticating endlessly on Cassius, Brutus, and Judas Iscariot. This is precisely where the agent is gonna spend the afterlife. You see, Dante reserves the harshest judgment on those who betray their kin, homeland, hosts, and benefactors.

The agent betrayed James Frey — clearly, Frey is her benefactor, as she took 15 percent of his money and 20 percent for foreign rights — by allowing his fictional tale of addiction, violence, root canals, and redemption to magically morph into a memoir. Like alchemy. Personally, I can’t vouch for the Agent’s role in all this, as it is tied to the Editor and Publisher. However, instead of providing wise counsel, the Agent pushed this fraudulent tale through the process, first (supposedly) shopping it as a novel before hitting the right note at Doubleday.

As I understand it, in the ninth circle they hand out those personal portable fans, but you can never get batteries.


I’m all written out on this subject, and sorry if I came across as a pedantic gasbag, which I am, admittedly.

However, if you made it all the way to the bottom, I will buy you a copy of “A Million Little Pieces” and hand deliver it to your door, a copy that I pick from dozens that will be stacked up in the Discount Bin at your local bookstore.