September 17, 2005

A Million Little Pieces...

... by James Frey.

Wow. That was an unsettling book.

This was definitely not a relaxing read, but it was gripping, that's for sure.

A Million Little Pieces is Frey's account of his six weeks in rehab. He was addicted to alcohol, crack, glue. You name it. The book opens with Frey waking up on a plane, with no idea of how he got there. "My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut."

From the very first lines, my heart was racing, due to a combination of morbid fascination in the story, incredulity, and Frey's writing technique. His sentences are bursts of words, thoughts running through his head and rapid-fire descriptions of moments.
I want a drink. I want fifty drinks. I want a bottle of the purest, strongest, most destructive, most poisonous alcohol on Earth. I want fifty bottles of it. I want crack, dirty and yellow and filled with formaldehyde. I want a pile of powder meth, five hundred hits of acid, a garbage bag filled with mushrooms, a tube of glue bigger than a truck, a pool of gas large enough to drown in. I want something anything whatever however as much as I can.

Usually I would find this style distracting - no punctuation in dialogues, for example, makes me stop and think and then I get mad that I am missing the story - but it wasn't too distracting in this case - maybe because I was so horrified by the actual goings-on that I didn't bother focusing on style as much. For example, the part where James has to have a double root canal? Major, horrifying surgery - awake and with no painkillers? His description of the agony of that experience made my stomach (and mouth) hurt. His conversations with his parents are crushing - I felt like I should loook away. His misery and honesty throughout the book were almost overwhelming, and yet you don't get the impression that he's going for shock value. I think his reality is just plain shocking enough.

At any rate, wow. It is a brutal, devestating book. It is literally incredible that James is still alive today (and obviously doing well). I want to read Frey's new book, My Friend Leonard, which takes up the story as James leaves rehab and makes his attempt at living sober in Chicago, but I hear it is a bit of a letdown after this one, so I think I'll skip it, so as not to ruin the effect. At least for now.


Big Mo said...

Definitely give My Friend Leonard a try--maybe in a few weeks when A Million Little Pieces has worn off a bit. MFL picks up right where AMLP leaves off and you think it's going to be another three hundred pages of repeated punches to the gut--but then, because of Leonard, things start to get better and the book takes off on a completely different trajectory.

I agree about the punctuation and lack of identification in the quotes. Usually I find this pretentious and hard to read and sort of silly. But with Frey, it just seems to fit. Maybe it's because you think, this guy is not educated, he's not trained as a writer, he's not a MFA product of the Iowa Writers Workshop and he's not a master of the craft yet--he's just doing the best he can to squeeze these personal, true stories out of his brain.

I think the proof of (1) whether or not he can write and (2) whether or not his writing is pretentious will be with his next novel, which (he claims) will not be autobiographical. If he can pull off writing a compelling story that he hasn't already lived, in the same style as these first two books, then I will be a believer. Writing fiction is going to require him to do things like establish a sense of place (in MFL, he writes a ton about events that happened in Chicago, but really gives no memorable description of the town--it could have been any northern city), develop character arcs with more logic than "it really happened," and create interesting and original characters (Leonard is described as looking just like Gene Hackman, which works if you are writing non-fiction, but in a novel wouldn't you think, "can't you do any better than THAT"?)

All of which is completely pretentious in itself. Edited down, this post is simply "Read My Friend Leonard."

big mo said...

You are SO ahead of the curve. Check out Oprah's announcement today--AMLP is her next book.

Ms Draggletail said...

I saw that! I sort of doubt Oprah's demographic is going to enjoy this book. But then maybe I'm just generalizing about what I presume to be Oprah's demographic. At any rate, it immediately shot to #1 on Amazon's bestseller list.