F(r)iction…most of the time

1 May

With all the brouhaha surrounding the daughter of that once mullet-sporting 90s achy heartbreachy one-shit-hit Country music crooner, one piece in this month’s Vanity Fair which probably will be overlooked is Evgenia Peretz’ interview with James Frey. You may remember Frey as the author of A Million Little Pieces who, in 2006, was eviscerated on air, on Oprah’s show by the Queen herself, for (gasp!!!) fabricating information in a purported memoir. After weeks of controversy and assaults by the publishing intelligentsia–as well as the reading public–subsequently stripping Frey of his contract and ruining his career and reputation, a class action suit was brought forth by angry readers and later was settled by Frey and Random House for bit over two million smackers. I remember when this story erupted, I poured a couple of fingers of Turkey and thought: well done Jimmy my boy, well done. You gave ’em all a great story. A brilliant ride!

Here were millions of people who, for some odd reason, actually felt CHEATED by a writer because of a mis-representation of his work. Memoir? Book is a best-seller. The author elevated to Saviour status; a walking, breathing example of redemption (with a biggie “R”); the perfect Oprah Book of the Month choice; a triumph of humanity over addiction. Fiction? A bone fide pariah, a liar, a cheater. HERESY! He deceived us, that despicable, bottom dweller of a…WRITER! Forget that the story, fictitious as it was, still stood as a dynamic piece of art. Forget that it sold millions of copies worldwide. Change the label from memoir to fiction and it’s suddenly rendered horse shite. It’s like taking a blade to a Picasso because what you thought was analytic cubism, turned out to be neo-expressionism. All right, all right, I’m reaching with the Picasso metaphor here, but you get it. Therapists and social workers actually brought forth suits against Frey, claiming they’d made their patients read the best-selling “memoir” and now that it was found to be fiction, the nutjobs and screwheads felt they’d been tricked. Awww, poor over-medicated, neurotic, self-absorbed yuppies. Thoroughly deceived by a writer; their miserable lives must’ve hit a new bottom. Their world, as shitty as they’d made it, came to a sudden, screeching end.

Vanity Fair writes that both Frey and his publisher Nan Talese claim they were tricked into appearing on Oprah by a producers’ pitch for a fabricated topic called “Truth in America.” Frey and Talese were told they’d stand on a panel with Frank Rich of the NY Times and Richard Cohen from the Washington Post. But when they arrived at Harpo Studios, plans had apparently changed. The new topic was the Frey issue. What followed was a cringing public scourge by the Queen in the hopes of absolving herself from the controversy and the wrath of her beloved block-headed public who practically demanded this guy’s head. So Frey was left to burn in front of a booing studio audience who demanded its money back.

The public backlash against The Heretic Frey astounded me. The memoir genre is by definition corrupt and subjective–in effect a piece of personal fiction. In a subsequent meeting with Frey shortly thereafter, Norman Mailer said: “That’s why a writer writes his memoir, to tell a lie and create an ideal self. Everything I’ve ever written is memoir, you know, is an inflated vision of the ideal Platonic self.” And Charles Bukowski in 1968 when questioned by the FBI about his columns for the Open City paper: “the articles are a mixture of fiction and fact, and have been highly romanticized in order to give the story juice.”

In short: this is what we do. We are not biographers or historians. For lack of a better phrase: we make up shit and we mix it with some truth and romantic notions…”in order to give the story juice.” That’s it. Nice and simple. And if you don’t dig it, then don’t buy it; don’t read it. And if you think you’re getting the truth, the whole truth, and nuttin’ but the truth from an autobiography or a memoir…well then, let me show you this beautiful suspension bridge I have for sale in the great borough of Brooklyn. In light of recent plagiarism allegations surrounding venerable Pulitzer Prize winning historians/authors such as (the now deceased) Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, I would venture to say even THAT information ought to be looked at with at least one raised eyebrow.

Link here to the Vanity Fair piece.

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8 Responses to “F(r)iction…most of the time”

  1. Geiger! Rollover and Play Dead/Alive 02/05/2008 at 8:38 AM #

    That dog knows some damn tricks I tell ya! Seriously. Yet the damn cat took all the credit. Bullshite…it’s all bullshite! And, decidedly so, afterall, since, dare I say, that’s what this is all about. Of course the damn thing was made up! Wasn’t the whole “memoria” about drug addiction, or some other f’d-up dabilitating problem, hitting lows, rising above the carnage, the sewage, the feces covered lawn…wasn’t that the whole point? Believe you me…I can barely remember two hours ago, much less two days, and if we get into years, well, it’s event horizon time as I sing “Cabaret” with Maximillian and ask why I was in such a particularly cheesy Disney movie, that perhaps had some kind of deeper meaning in man’s quest for spiritual enlightenment, immortality, or sheer foolhardiness, yet, the pay then, just wasn’t what it is today and wires are still pretty cool, and so is Harryhausen…but I guess that is beside the matter (or anti-matter now that I think about it).

    But seriously, c’mon, it’s War of the Worlds all over again. Can you imagine them trying to string up Orson? Get over yourself world. Why the hell do you think “creation” myths became “creation” myths? The real story is just too damn boring and would never sell books, so let’s add in a few extra days of hard work for God and others and “poof” we don’t just have a creation myth, we have “THE” creation myth. Let’s face it, the greatest non-fiction book to be fictionalized is the one book most of the angry mob probably turned too as they lit the fires under Frey’s Templar ass!

    No more the burning times I tell you…no more!!!!!

    And we all know that Erzsébet bathing in the blood of virginal girls wouldn’t end…that’s immortality, but the digs were just way too 16th Century, so, start a book club, and bath in the death throes of the heretical memorians…no one will clue in there!

    Keep up the ‘tain, swine…I gotcha back and beatin’ those maggots outta the dead horse!

  2. (S)wine 02/05/2008 at 3:34 PM #

    They tried stringing up Orson, but a bit later. They all ha-ha-ed their way through the invasion, but believe me…they tried doin’ a job on him later, with “Magnificent Ambersons.”

    I know who you are. And I know where you live. Well, at least I got you pinpointed down to the major intersection.

    All hail The Hibernian!

  3. dr. zombieswan 02/05/2008 at 8:32 PM #

    Then we have the brouhaha about the “gang banger” girl turned whitey who wrote her “memoirs” recently. All the surrounding press and her self-image and she is whiter than me (which is damn white.) Margaret B. Jones that’s her name… article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/books/04fake.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    She called cigarettes Bigarettes, for Christ’s sake! Not only is that made up but it’s poorly made up. WTF?

    Memoirs are not TRUE stories, people. They are fictionalized memories. And then we get into the theoretical parts of even the way conversations et al are “remembered” in biographies and REALLY true stories.

    Next thing you know, you’ll tell me the Amytiville Horror wasn’t true.

  4. dr. zombieswan 02/05/2008 at 8:33 PM #

    dang nab it, did my comment just disappear, or are you moderating?

  5. dr. zombieswan 02/05/2008 at 8:34 PM #

    SHHOOOT! I had a nice clever comment and it looks like hitting submit deleted it. POOOOOO!.

    I’m not repeating it cause I can’t but it was mostly about that white chick who made up her gang banger story and was exposed:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/books/04fake.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    And then I very cleverly said “Next thing you know, they’ll tell me the Amytiville Horror wasn’t true.”

  6. (S)wine 02/05/2008 at 8:46 PM #

    I am not moderating. I don’t know what happened; WordPress has never lost a comment for me. Yet. I did read that Times article. Thanks.

  7. Slyboots 03/05/2008 at 7:10 AM #

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or Oprah making an ass of herself. Ask Dr. Phil who is about to be relegated to outer Mongolia.

  8. (S)wine 03/05/2008 at 6:39 PM #

    Yes, but his show has reached the depths of the Maury Poviches, no? Or so I hear.

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