Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Million Little Pieces

There has been a whole lotta hype about this book by James Frey, “A Million Little Pieces”. I first heard about it during the Christmas vacation when my brother in law kept telling me about a great book he was reading and he would pass on to me when he was done. Then when he left after the New Year, I kicked back with this book and read half of it in one night. It was infectious; I could not put it down. It is a chronicle of James Frey, who wakes up on an airplane covered in piss, blood, and vomit. He is missing four teeth, his nose is broken, and he does not know how he got there. James Frey was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and a criminal. This book is a memoir of his road to salvation.

Or is it? After an interview with Oprah, where she exclaimed that this book kept her up all night, ‘A Million Little Pieces’ was added to her prestigious book club and it rocketed to #1 on the best sellers list. In fact, the only book that out sold it in the US last year was Harry Potter. The author achieved celebrity status and millions of dollars to boot. The Smoking Gun keeps an archive of celebrity mug shots on their web site. Now that James was famous they went out to source his pictures. They found that the recollections in his memoir did not exactly match the existing police reports. You can read about their complete findings here. After this expose on January 8th 2006, Frey was affectionately dubbed, “The Man who Conned Oprah”.

The report triggered a media outburst that produced wide spread criticism on blog’s and other internet mediums, radio, news casts, and even resulted in Frey participating in an interview with Larry King to rebut the allegations. During the King interview, Frey admitted that about 18 pages of his book were “embellishments” but added that it was “less than 5% of the total book”. Oprah called in to the show personally during the last few minutes and stood in Frey’s defense, stating, “The underlying message of James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book.” As I was halfway through the book, I came across an entry on Shan’s blog that brought this situation to light for me and she blasted the hell out of Frey as well. I can’t find the entry so I can’t link back to it.

With the history set down I can say that the style of his writing is unique. He draws you into the mind of an alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal. You follow him through the rehabilitation process, living through the agony in his mind, following his words that have a sort of poetic quality. After reading numerous articles on line and looking at the situation for numerous points of view, I returned to finishing my book with as much enthusiasm as when I started it. He goes into details that actually made my toes curl. I have read many graphics novels but for obvious reasons, this hit very close to home. Fact or fiction, there are basic thoughts and concepts in this novel that need to be discussed. His personality that comes through is also something I found very favorable and agreeable. I could really relate to this person I was reading about.

One point in the book that aggravated hordes of people was that fact that Frey claims to have kicked his habit without the use of the infamous 12 step program. That is fucking sacrilegious. The 12 steps began with the Alcoholics Anonymous back in the 1930’s. They have remained the pillars of their beliefs till today.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol; that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Apart from points 4, 8, 9, and 10, I have qualms with every thing else. Mostly because I don’t really believe in God and I refuse to hand over responsibility for my actions to Him, anyone else, or any other force that may be. Frey points out in his memoir that the rehab centers and its staff believe that the 12 steps is the ONLY road to salvation. They define alcoholism as a disease. Cancer and AIDS are diseases. By classifying alcoholism as a disease is giving ones self freedom from responsibility. Children of alcoholics are actually made to believe that they are predisposed to this ‘disease’. In my opinion that is absolutely bullshit. Frey proves them wrong by actually over coming his addiction without the use of the 12 steps, by taking responsibility for his own actions.

The success rate of rehab centers in the US is less than 15%. Maybe there is a flaw in their philosophy rather than the will power of the addicts. By classifying ones self as a victim you would not even have to take full responsibility when you fuck up. If I believed that I am a heavy drinker because my Grandfather was and my mother or father is then I am setting my self up for disaster. I will feel powerless and damned. In any situation I find my self in I will not hand over my fate to anyone or anything. If I plan to succeed I must accept that I am in control and no one else. The problem I have with the 12 steps is the same problem I have with religion; it gives too many people the undeserved salvation they are hungry for. It gives a person the excuse to fuck up and expect a second chance.

The book is at times scary and at other times inspirational. It has forced me to reconsider some of my life choices and reevaluate the way in which I treat my mind and body. Weather ‘A Million Little Pieces’ is all true or completely fictional; the facts still remain the same. It is a powerful book that is inspirational and an eye opener. If you have not read it yet, I suggest picking it up, and if you have read it, I would love to hear your take.

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