The BPDM ran an op-ed by their man in Paris, Comte St. Louis Esprit de L'Escalier, about James Frey and his sinoidal love affair with Oprah. Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, went from being a recovered drug addict and alcoholic to being a gleaming Oprah-Book-Club star, and guest on Winfrey's show, to being exposed for seriously fabrications in his work, and then, as I gather from this BPMD piece, chastised and disowned by Oprah. De L'Escalier is none too impressed with Oprah's reaction:
Who in the blue blazes do you, Oprah Winfrey, think you’re kidding? I mean you’re a “creation” your self--a fiction, if you will. You look nothing like you used to look, and what you do look like is made from organic chemicals and other cosmetic secrets, some known only to your doctor or surgeon, I’m sure. Your performance, sitting their like Salome waiting for the head of John the Baptist to be delivered to you, was a bit too orchestrated as you “castrated” and demeaned a grown man, Mr. James Frey. Mr Frey has done a much better job of getting his act together than some of the addiction freaks you’ve had on your show, who keep their dope and booze on the flow in Hollywood, but they act like perfect, sensitive angels when they sit next to the great and powerful Oprah.
Since I am even less "in the know" about media and pop-stardom affairs than when I was in the
Mr. Frey’s work fattens the souls of many who need to read and hear what it means to come out of a fiction--the fiction of addiction. ... Take any memoir by any of your starlet or star friends and you’ll find that here and there the “truth be damned” for a better story, a more inspiring story that came from how someone’s heart felt rather than an exact, at that moment, recollection.
The comte buttresses this line of thought with a quote from Eugene O'Neill's play, The Iceman Cometh:
"To hell with truth! As the history of the world proves, truth has no bearing on anything. The lie of the pipe dream is what gives life to the whole mad misbegotten lot of us.” (Delivered by the character, Larry Slade.)
Since I greatly respect L'Escalier's perspective in general, I am pained to admit I find him quite off-base in this case. While Frey's "success" in shaking addiction should not be ignored or denied, he certainly deserves to be put in his place (which here amounts to being put out of the unblinking spotlight) as a basic fabricator. I understand quite well the therapeutic value of embellishing his struggle for the sake of creating hope; but I am even more gravely aware of the risks involved in whitewashing how difficult hardcore addiction is. I understand that for many drug users, alcoholics, and general stuck-in-a-ruts, Frey is a walking placebo of hope and optimism. "If he can do it, so can I!" they certainly say upon reading A Million Little Pieces. But did he really do it? From what I know, yes, he did overcome drug addiction and the like; but the more important question is, Did he really overcome the life he claims to have led? Because, if he did not, then all those white-knuckled fists full of hope -- "I can do it too!" -- are gripping an illusion, a lie. The truth is, as indicated by the measly 17% recovery rate of Hazelton rehab center, where Frey was treated, people in Frey's hardcore addiction straits actually don't end up so spiffy and dapper as frey now is. The shine on his rehabilitated face, a shine which spreads to others like a ray of hope, is based on the saga of illusory optimism into which Frey has written himself. Sadly, this lie of optimism becomes for them the very "drug" L'Escalier says Frey's book neutralizes.
Isn’t that the whole point of the book: getting one’s self out of the fake world of addiction, out from a pernicious, imaginary world?
For the true nature of the drug Frey peddles is the myth of self-fulfillment. Though I have not read the book, I feel entitled not only to ask the question, "What, ultimately, do we get from Frey's book?" but also to give the answer, "We get Frey the Self-Made Man." We get a gritty modern version of Horatio Alger, which amidst its fevered accounts of sex, drugs and, yes, rock and roll, whispers the fatal meme that your salvation ultimately depends on yourself. This may seem absurd to say, but consider the narrative "ultimacy" of the book. Chapter after chapter exposes us to people who either oppress and harm Frey, but whom he overcomes, or people who help him transiently, but then ultimately die or disappear. (Even his parents are barely sketched in the story, and consistently described as being "ignorant" of his nightmare of addiction.) In the end, Frey, and Frey alone, is the last man standing. And the final high of this drug of Self-Improvement is Frey's total Nietzschean ecstasy of recreating himself in his own image as a phoenix whose wings, it turns out, were never actually burned so bad. Far from aligning himself with the "weak" and the addicted (for indeed, Frey considers addiction a weakness, not a disease), Frey the fabricator, the peddler of celluloid hope, actually aligns himself with the strong, the survivors, the ones who "get ahead" by any means necessary -- even by lying your way onto the Oprah show.