Memoirs: So You Wanna Piece of Me?

Million Little Pieceswas the first addiction memoir I’ve ever read. Normally the entire genre makes me ill. All that self-absorption! Why on earth do you get to talk about how important your pain is when there are thousands of people who have other qualifications to write a memoir other than “I heart heroin.” I avoid abuse memoirs for the same reason. I find the whole thing sickening because as much as memorists “want to help others”, their books do nothing but provide a creative outlet for the memorist. It does nothing for the reader. Which is fine – not everything has to have a purpose in life. But I hate the coyness of that reason: “I wrote this book because I wanted others to know you could come through alcoholism/drug abuse/prostitution with flying colors!” Okay, whatever. Maybe others can and maybe they can’t, and maybe even the ones who can aren’t able to write, and that’s just fine.  So anytime I’m at B&N and I pick up something like Dry or whatever, I just read the back flap and think… dude, no.

Million Little Pieces triumphed over this bias.  Firstly, I loved the beautiful cover. A plaintive hand with tiny colorful beads on it against a green-blue cover said hope to me.  I bought the book. It would not be correct to say I read it.  I devoured this book.  I did not sleep until every word had been read.  I loved that book; it became part of my Permanent Library – the books that I will never get rid of, no matter what.  And not only do I love that book, I also love James Frey.  Even after Oprah threw his junkie ass under the bus, I continue to love him. I will read anything he publishes for as long as he writes – his writing covers all sins.

Still, in some circles he’s a pariah. A liar. Almost in the realm of a plagiarist. I never understood that. The man created something beautiful and meaningful. Whether or not everything in there was the dog’s honest truth, I don’t know or care. It wasn’t a biography; it was a memoir. If I ever write my memoir, it will probably be vastly different from other people’s memories of the time. It brings up the whole Roshoman debate: is my version “correct”, or is yours? And my answer is: mine is. Because I’m the one writing it. You want to write your version, have at it. But my life is forever marked with my own perceptions, and my own exaggerations, lies, half-truths, secrets, and all the other things that made people freak out when they discovered Frey’s work was in fact not 100% literal. (But make no mistake: it was literary.) The specific parts of his work that were attacked were the dental scene and his arrest. On the Oprah show, Nan Talese, the publisher, defended her author’s work by saying that no, the dental scene did not bring up any doubts for her because she too had once experienced dental work without any anesthetic. And Oprah said (I’m paraphrasing here), that’s ridiculous, Nan. People just don’t have dental surgery without anesthetic.That made me stand up and take notice. What if Talese had simply said, Oprah, black women do not become billionaires. Sorry, it’s never happened before, so it didn’t happen to you.Same exact set of facts: each personally experienced something unusual. But the O negated both Nan and James’s experience. Bullocks on that. I really don’t give a wet noodle if he had oral surgery without drugs or not. It doesn’t take away from the thrust of the story. And as for his arrest, yes, he apparently exaggerated. But so what? It works.

After initially supporting Frey, Oprah turned on Frey with a vengeance, telling her audience that “truth matters.” Maybe it does. But this wasn’t a confessional, it was a piece of art. And art is wide open to interpretation, and Frey had the right – the dog given right – to use his very brief jail time to make a larger point.  Maybe he felt like a criminal and used the symbol of prison to further that. Or maybe he just thought he looked good in a prison jumpsuit.  Point is, its not relevant to the story and despite what Oprah says, it has no bearing on James Frey the author or the man.

Memory is a tricky thing.  As an artist, Frey – and everyone else – has the right to write what they know in this regard.  It’s up to you and me to decide if we want to read it.   In normal cases, I’d say no.  But James Frey is one of the best literary voices of our generation, and I’d read anything he cares to publish.  His vision and his skill are the truth.  One simply can’t fake that.

The Mourning Jacket

Oh George. My love-hate-love affair with George Bush has reached another impasse tonight as I realized that our president wore his 9/11 Jacket to tour tornado damage:

Comforting a mother whose son was a Port Authority officer:


Famous picture of him on the heap of rubble that was our World Trade Center:


And on February 8, 2008, in Lafayette, Tennessee, President Bush hugs Amber Warner, 14, during a walk through a tornado-damaged neighborhood with state and local officials:


Just Once

I will vacuum in pearls.  Just to know that once I met the June Clever ideal.

New York Drowning

I found this picture here. It makes me angry. It feels manipulative.

Man Defrauds 9/11 Compensation Fund

An East Windsor man yesterday admitted defrauding the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of more than $1 million by claiming he was permanently disabled in the 9/11 attacks.

Mario Mastellone, 41, pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to one count of illegally obtaining public money. He faces up to 10 years in prison when U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero sentences him May 16. He remains free on $600,000 bail.

Mastellone admitted receiving almost $1.08 million from the U.S. Justice Department in what federal authorities said was the largest fraud ever perpetrated against the 9/11 fund, which was established after the terrorist attacks to compensate victims who agreed not to sue. In all, the fund distributed about $7 billion to 9/11 victims and their families.

Mastellone obtained the compensation by submitting false claims that he had not worked since 9/11 and was permanently disabled as a result of injuries suffered in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

He also tried to collect 9/ 11-related compensation from the New York State Workers’ Compen sation Board and the Painting In dustry Insurance Fund, federal authorities said when Mastellone was indicted in September 2006.

They said he lied to a Justice Department hearing officer evaluating his claim for 9/11 compensation and to an FBI agent investigating the fraud.


This is really disappointing. Really sick and sad and it hurts the people who legitmately needed and were entitled to the funds (as entitled as any person can be for such a thing.)


While the company is long dead, the cultural tags associated with it will never disappear. According to Playbill Director Rupert Goold has announced a new season for 2008 and beyond for his Headlong Theatre company. In 2009 the company will premiere E.N.R.O.N., a new epic by Lucy Prebble inspired by America’s infamous financial scandal.

It is described as Dates and venue for the 2009 production of Prebble’s E.N.R.O.N. have yet to be announced, but press notes describe the work as a mix of classical tragedy and Mamet-like savage comedy.

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