A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces

Overview
A Million Little Pieces is a semi-fictional memoir
Memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

 by James Frey
James Frey
James Christopher Frey is an American writer. His books A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard , as well as Bright Shiny Morning , were bestsellers...

. It tells the story of a 23-year-old alcoholic and drug abuser and how he copes with rehabilitation in a Twelve steps
Twelve-step program
A Twelve-Step Program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems...

-oriented treatment center. While initially promoted as a memoir, it was later discovered that many of the events described in the book never happened.

A badly tattered James awakens on an airplane to Chicago, with no recollection of his injuries or of how he ended up on the plane.
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Encyclopedia
A Million Little Pieces is a semi-fictional memoir
Memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

 by James Frey
James Frey
James Christopher Frey is an American writer. His books A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard , as well as Bright Shiny Morning , were bestsellers...

. It tells the story of a 23-year-old alcoholic and drug abuser and how he copes with rehabilitation in a Twelve steps
Twelve-step program
A Twelve-Step Program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems...

-oriented treatment center. While initially promoted as a memoir, it was later discovered that many of the events described in the book never happened.

Summary


A badly tattered James awakens on an airplane to Chicago, with no recollection of his injuries or of how he ended up on the plane. He is met by his parents at the airport, who take him to a rehabilitation clinic. We find out that James is 23 years old, and has been an alcoholic for ten years, and a crack addict for three. He is also wanted by the police in three different states on several charges.

As he checks into the rehab clinic, he is forced to quit his substance abuse, a transition that we find out later probably saves his life, but is also an incredibly agonizing event. As part of this, he is forced to undergo a series of painful root canal
Root canal
A root canal is the space within the root of a tooth. It is part of a naturally occurring space within a tooth that consists of the pulp chamber , the main canal, and more intricate anatomical branches that may connect the root canals to each other or to the surface of the root.-Root canal anatomy:...

s, without any anesthesia
Anesthesia
Anesthesia, or anaesthesia , traditionally meant the condition of having sensation blocked or temporarily taken away...

 because of possible negative reactions to the drugs. He copes with the pain by squeezing tennis balls until his nails crack (when challenged on this incident, specifically, during his second Oprah appearance, Frey said that it may have been "more than one" root canal procedure and may or may not have included Novocaine, as he remembers it).

The book follows Frey through the painful experiences that lead up to his eventual release from the center, including his participation in the clinic's family program with his parents, despite his strong desire not to. Throughout the novel, Frey speaks of the "Fury" he is fighting, which he sees as the cause of his desire to drink alcohol and use drugs. The "Fury" could be seen as the antagonist of the novel, because he believes that he will not be able to recover until he learns to ignore it or "kill it."

Frey meets many interesting people in the clinic, with whom he forms relationships and who play an important role in his life both during and after his time in the clinic. These people include a mafia
Mafia
The Mafia is a criminal syndicate that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct, and whose common enterprise is protection racketeering...

 boss who plays a vital role in his recovery (subject of Frey's subsequent book My Friend Leonard
My Friend Leonard
My Friend Leonard is a memoir written by James Frey. Continuing where A Million Little Pieces left off, the book centers on the father-son relationship Frey and his friend from Hazelden, Leonard, shared. My Friend Leonard was published in June 2005 by Riverhead, and became a bestseller. Amazon.com...

), and a woman drug addict with whom he falls in love, despite strict rules forbidding contact between men and women at the clinic. James finally recovers and never relapses.

A notable feature of Pieces is its lack of quotation marks to indicate direct discourse. Instead, a new line is started each time. The fact that the author uses this same style to indicate his internal thoughts, often interspersed between direct discourse from himself and others, gives the book a unique and sometimes confusing writing style, purportedly reflecting the nature of his experience in the treatment center. Frey makes frequent use of this stream of consciousness writing technique, which allows the reader to better understand his version of the events. Frey's unique writing style also involves his capitalizing nouns throughout the book for unclear reasons. Frey also uses heavy repetition of words throughout the text.

Reception


The book was released on April 15, 2003 by Doubleday Books, a division of Random House
Random House
Random House, Inc. is the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world. It has been owned since 1998 by the German private media corporation Bertelsmann and has become the umbrella brand for Bertelsmann book publishing. Random House also has a movie production arm, Random House Films,...

, and received mixed feedback. While some critics, such as Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy , is a New York Times bestselling author who has written several acclaimed novels and memoirs. Two of his novels, The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, were made into Oscar-nominated films.-Early life:...

 praised the book, calling it "the War and Peace
War and Peace
War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

of addiction," others were not as impressed by the gruesome nature of the book and Frey's overall attitude that sets the tone for the book. For example, critic Julian Keeling, a recovering addict, stated that "Frey's stylistic tactics are irritating...none of this makes the reader feel well-disposed towards him". Also, author Heather King said that "A Million Little Pieces rings false".

Poet and author John Dolan
John Dolan (writer)
John Carrol Dolan is an American poet, author and essayist. He currently writes for and co-edits the eXile, an English-language paper founded and formerly based in Moscow, Russia, and now based online in California. He was recently laid off from the University of Victoria, British...

 roundly criticized the book as contrived and inauthentic, referring to the writing style as a "… childish impersonation of the laconic Hemingway style …."

In September 2005, the book was picked as an Oprah's Book Club
Oprah's Book Club
Oprah's Book Club was a book discussion club segment of the American talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, highlighting books chosen by host Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey started the book club in 1996, selecting a new novel for viewers to read and discuss each month. The Club ended its 15-year run, along with...

 selection, and shortly thereafter became the number one paperback non-fiction book on Amazon.com
Amazon.com
Amazon.com, Inc. is a multinational electronic commerce company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is the world's largest online retailer. Amazon has separate websites for the following countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and...

, and topped the New York Times Best Seller list for fifteen straight weeks. By January 28, 2006, it had fallen to number four on the Amazon.com list with Winfrey's following selection, Night
Night (book)
Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father, Shlomo, in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War...

by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel
Sir Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel KBE; born September 30, 1928) is a Hungarian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and...

, taking over the top position.

The book garnered international attention in January 2006 after it was reported that it contained fabrications and was not, as originally represented by the author and publisher, a completely factual memoir.

Controversy


After a six week long investigation, The Smoking Gun
The Smoking Gun
The Smoking Gun is a website that posts legal documents, arrest records, and police mugshots on a daily basis. The intent is to bring to the public light information that is damning, shocking, outrageous, or amazing, yet also somewhat obscure or unreported by more mainstream media sources...

published an article on January 8, 2006 called "A Million Little Lies". The article described fabrications in Frey's account of his drug abuse experiences, life, and criminal record. According to CNN
CNN
Cable News Network is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States...

, The Smoking Guns editor, William Bastone, said "the probe was prompted after the Oprah show aired". He further stated, "We initially set off to just find a mug shot of him... It basically set off a chain of events that started with us having a difficult time finding a booking photo of this guy".

The Minneapolis
Star Tribune
Star Tribune
The Star Tribune is the largest newspaper in the U.S. state of Minnesota and is published seven days each week in an edition for the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. A statewide version is also available across Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota. The...

had questioned James Frey's claims as early as 2003. Frey responded then by saying, "I've never denied I've altered small details."

Stories surfaced about Random House
Random House
Random House, Inc. is the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world. It has been owned since 1998 by the German private media corporation Bertelsmann and has become the umbrella brand for Bertelsmann book publishing. Random House also has a movie production arm, Random House Films,...

, publisher of
A Million Little Pieces, deciding to give full refunds to anyone who had purchased the book directly through it. According to a Gawker.com
Gawker.com
Gawker is a newsmagazine/blog based in New York City that bills itself as "the source for daily Manhattan media news and gossip" and focuses on celebrities and the media industry....

 report, customers could have a claim to money if they truly felt deceived by Frey. Speaking in March 2009, on City Talk
City Talk 105.9
City Talk 105.9 is a commercial radio station in Liverpool, England. The station was awarded a licence by Ofcom on 9 November 2006 and the station launched on 28 January 2008. City Talk is a sister station to the existing Bauer Radio-owned Radio City and Magic 1548, and the stations share studio...

 to Trisha Goddard
Trisha Goddard
Patricia "Trisha" Goddard is a British television presenter and actress best known for her morning talk show, Trisha Goddard, which is broadcast on a mid morning slot on Channel 5 in the UK. In Australia she is known as a long time presenter of Play School.-Background:Goddard was born in London,...

, it was stated fewer than 2,000 claimed a refund.

In an article detailing the book, Frey is quoted saying he "stands by the book as being the essential truth of my life". However, on January 26, 2006, Frey once again appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show
The Oprah Winfrey Show
The Oprah Winfrey Show is an American syndicated talk show hosted and produced by its namesake Oprah Winfrey. It ran nationally for 25 seasons beginning in 1986, before concluding in 2011. It is the highest-rated talk show in American television history....

 and this time admitted that the same "Demons" that had made him turn to alcohol and drugs had also driven him to fabricate crucial portions of his "memoir"; it first having been shopped as being a novel but declined by many, including Random House itself. Winfrey told Frey that she felt "really duped" but that, "more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers." She also apologized for her previous telephoned statement to Larry King Live
Larry King Live
Larry King Live is an American talk show hosted by Larry King on CNN from 1985 to 2010. It was CNN's most watched and longest-running program, with over one million viewers nightly....

 — during Frey's appearance on that show on January 11, 2006 — that what mattered was not the truth of Frey's book, but its value as a therapeutic tool for addicts. She said, "I left the impression that the truth is not important." During the show Winfrey interrogated Frey about everything from the number of root canals he had to the existence of his Girlfriend, Lilly. Winfrey then brought out Frey's publisher, Nan Talese
Nan Talese
Nan Talese is an American editor and a veteran of the New York publishing industry.-Career:Talese is Senior Vice President of Doubleday and the Publisher and Editorial Director of Nan A. Talese/Doubleday...

, to defend her decision to classify the book as a memoir, and forced Talese to admit that she had done nothing to check the book's veracity, despite the fact that her representatives had assured Winfrey's staff that the book was indeed non-fiction and described it as "brutally honest" in a press release.

The media feasted over the televised showdown. David Carr
David Carr (journalist)
David Carr is an American journalist and author. He is a media and culture columnist for The New York Times. In his 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun, he detailed his past experiences with cocaine addiction and includes interviews with people from his past, tackling his memoir as if he were...

 of the New York Times wrote, "Both Mr. Frey and Ms. Talese were snapped in two like dry winter twigs." "Oprah annihilates Frey," proclaimed Larry King. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd
Maureen Dowd
Maureen Bridgid Dowd is a Washington D.C.-based columnist for The New York Times and best-selling author. During the 1970s and the early 1980s, she worked for Time magazine and the Washington Star, where she covered news as well as sports and wrote feature articles...

 wrote, "It was a huge relief, after our long national slide into untruth and no consequences, into swiftboating and swift bucks, into W
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

.'s delusion and denial, to see the Empress of Empathy icily hold someone accountable for lying," and the
Washington Posts Richard Cohen
Richard Cohen (journalist)
Richard Cohen, is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post.-Background:Cohen is a graduate of Far Rockaway High School and attended Hunter College, New York University, and Columbia University...

 was so impressed by the confrontation that he crowned Winfrey "Mensch
Mensch
Mensch means "a person of integrity and honor". The opposite of a "mensch" is an "unmensch" . According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character...

 of the Year."
All of Winfrey's reactions, as well as video clips of her interview with Frey, are found within her book club's website.

On January 13, 2006, Steven Levitt
Steven Levitt
Steven David "Steve" Levitt is an American economist known for his work in the field of crime, in particular on the link between legalized abortion and crime rates. Winner of the 2004 John Bates Clark Medal, he is currently the William B...

, co-author of the book Freakonomics
Freakonomics
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The book has been described as melding pop culture with economics, but has also been described as...

, stated in his blog that, having searched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services headquartered in Druid Hills, unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, in Greater Atlanta...

 database of mortality detail records, he was unable to identify a single death that reasonably closely matched Frey's description of the circumstances of the death of "Lilly", Frey's alleged girlfriend in the book. Following Frey's admission to Winfrey that he had altered Lilly's method of suicide in the book from cutting her wrists to hanging, on January 27, 2006, Levitt recorded on his blog that he was again unable to find a recorded death consistent with Frey's revised description. As Levitt states,
"Frey’s primary defense has been to say that his criminal history is a minor part of the book and these inconsistencies do not substantively change the meaning of the story. Of course, his criminal history is the only thing that thesmokinggun.com actually looked into. Given that virtually nothing checked out, it doesn’t bode well for the veracity of the rest of the book."

Reactions to controversy


The publishers of the book, Doubleday and Anchor Books, initially stood by Frey. But further examination of the evidence eventually caused the publishers to alter their stances. They released a statement noting, "When the Smoking Gun report appeared, our first response, given that we were still learning the facts of the matter, was to support our author. Since then, we have questioned him about the allegations and have sadly come to the realization that a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished." As a consequence, the publishers decided to include a publisher's note and an author's note from Frey as disclaimers to be included in future publications. According to the source at the company, there had been some disagreement among editors at the publishing house about Mr. Frey’s authenticity, but the early dissenters had been silenced by the book's commercial success, both pre- and post-Oprah.

Random House issued a statement regarding the controversy. It noted that future editions of the book would contain notes from both the publisher and Frey on the text, as well as prominent notations on the cover and on their website about the additions. On September 12, 2006, Frey and publisher Random House, Inc. reached a tentative legal settlement, where readers who felt that they had been defrauded by Frey's A Million Little Pieces would be offered a refund. In order to receive the refund, customers must submit a proof of purchase, pieces of the book itself (page 163 from the hard cover or the front cover from the paperback), and complete a sworn statement indicating that they purchased the book under the assumption that it was a memoir.

In Frey's note to readers, which will be included in future editions of the book, he apologized for fabricating portions of his book and for having made himself seem "tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am." He added,
"People cope with adversity in many different ways, ways that are deeply personal. [...] My mistake [...] is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience."

Frey admitted that he had literary reasons for his fabrications, as well:
"I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require."

Nevertheless, he defended the right of memoirists to draw upon their memories, not simply upon documented facts, in creating their memoirs. Additionally, Frey has discussed the controversy and stated his side of the argument on his blog.

Shortly after Frey's return to the Oprah Winfrey show, the Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library
The Brooklyn Public Library is the public library system of the borough of Brooklyn in New York City. It is the fifth largest public library system in the United States. Like the two other public library systems in New York City, it is an independent nonprofit organization that is funded by the...

 went as far as recataloging Frey's book as fiction, although it appears most other libraries have not followed suit. The New York Times Best Seller list
New York Times Best Seller list
The New York Times Best Seller list is widely considered the preeminent list of best-selling books in the United States. It is published weekly in The New York Times Book Review magazine, which is published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and as a stand-alone publication...

 still includes it on the Paperback Nonfiction List as of September 2006.

Regardless of this controversy, the book has been published in twenty-nine languages worldwide and has sold over 5 million copies. The majority of these sales occurred after Oprah announced it as the new Oprah's Book Club
Oprah's Book Club
Oprah's Book Club was a book discussion club segment of the American talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, highlighting books chosen by host Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey started the book club in 1996, selecting a new novel for viewers to read and discuss each month. The Club ended its 15-year run, along with...

 book.

On January 18, 2006, Marty Angelo
Marty Angelo
Marty Angelo worked in the entertainment business from 1965 to 1980 as a television producer , record promoter, restaurant/nightclub owner and personal manager for rock 'n' roll bands ....

, prison minister and author of the book Once Life Matters: A New Beginning, came to the defense of James Frey in a press release. While Angelo did not condone the inclusion of fictional elements in a book marketed as non-fiction, he stated, “The controversy surrounding the recent accusations that Frey embellished some of his statements in his book is relatively minor compared to the fact this man claims he cleared one of the biggest hurdles in his life—his substance abuse. That’s the bottom line issue.”

“Right now the media seems to be negatively attacking the messenger instead of concentrating on promoting the positive message of redemption...” Angelo added. “In terms of the benefit to readers as a self-help book, the message is the key issue, not the minor story details. One needs to stay focused on what the real message is—overcoming addiction.”

On July 28, 2007, at a literary convention in Texas, Nan Talese
Nan Talese
Nan Talese is an American editor and a veteran of the New York publishing industry.-Career:Talese is Senior Vice President of Doubleday and the Publisher and Editorial Director of Nan A. Talese/Doubleday...

 spoke of Oprah Winfrey as having been "mean and self-serving" and having had a "holier-than-thou attitude" and "fiercely bad manners" during Winfrey's debate with Talese and James Frey on January 26, 2006. Talese said she and Frey were led to believe the show was going to be a panel discussion on "Truth in America." Just before air time, both Talese and Frey were told the topic of the show had been changed to "The James Frey Controversy," thus the ambush began. Talese stated that Oprah needed to apologize for her behavior on the show. However Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over fifty novels, as well as many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction...

 said "This is an ethical issue which can be debated passionately and with convincing arguments on both sides. In the end, Oprah Winfrey had to defend her own ethical standards of truth on her television program, which was courageous of her." Talese was unapologetic about publishing Frey's A Million Little Pieces and commented the gripping book has great value for anyone who must deal with a loved one who is an addict.

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