I got to read this book just a couple of months before the Oprah controversy broke. I remember speaking about it to the Social Work Practice class I tI got to read this book just a couple of months before the Oprah controversy broke. I remember speaking about it to the Social Work Practice class I taught at the time and noted that I wasn't at all convinced that it was "true." But I did think it had some interesting material in it if you could look past the quite serious horseshit*: the oral surgery, the romantic embraces, the endless vomiting, and ultimately, the heroic vindication.
I certainly enjoyed watching Frey squirm as he tried to parse what he understood is meant by "memoir" as if he were not the only person in existence who understands it that way.
What was good was some of the perception (after you remove the intense egoism of Frey) of the co-residents of his particular unit. I treat dozens of people a week. They aren't all whores with hearts of gold, or Mafiosi with souls of poets, but they are all real humans who have been beaten up and beaten down by something that has gotten way out of their control. And they all deserve the chance to get better and get on with life. Frey catches a bit of that.
What was bad is the relentless Freyism that states that you don't have to seriously address your behavior or your underlying character in order to beat an addiction. Frey goes into treatment as a jerk, behaves in treatment as a jerk, and leaves treatment as a jerk. Doesn't work that way. Frey seems to ascribe his "success" to his adamant refusal to be a nice guy and listen to anyone else's perspective.
Basically, the book never was a redemptive saga of a person caught up in drugs and crime. James Frey was essentially a nobody, with some minor traffic violations, maybe doing a little weed, some pills or even some cocaine. Not much to make a book. So he creates a fictional uber-James Frey. It wasn't a little weed or blow, it was drug doses that would kill a normal street junkie. Not a petty disorderly conduct, it was hard time on the Rock sparring with hardbody street toughs. Not a treatment where you sit in groups and listen for hours, it was railing with your strong will against the mind-numbing, soul-destroying system. At certain points, I almost rolled on the floor with laughter.
How do you get spectacular redemption unless you blow everything way out of proportion? Real treatment and redemption in the real world takes months and months (and years and years) of looking at yourself and making thousands of little changes in what you think and feel and do. Instead, Frey offers a formula where there is an inherent nobility and redemption in being a jerk.
*horseshit is a technical term in the literature wheeze...more
Genre is a limiting function on writers, tending to cast them as a "detective" fiction writer, or a "sf" writer. Reading Hill is to read a writer in tGenre is a limiting function on writers, tending to cast them as a "detective" fiction writer, or a "sf" writer. Reading Hill is to read a writer in the fullest sense....more
This book follows the long-established drunkalogue format, but does so very well. Cycling through street, rehab and recovery—building hope, increasingThis book follows the long-established drunkalogue format, but does so very well. Cycling through street, rehab and recovery—building hope, increasing degradation and crushing despair. Sheff does a great job of showing how easily his ego tripped him up and how many "seemingly insignificant decisions" caught him out. ...more