In his unremarkable life as an average white, middle-class, keg party-loving, self-absorbed frat boy who never grew up, James Frey has a lot in common with many of my former classmates and neighbors in suburban Ohio. But, from his sensational autobiography, A Million Little Pieces, that has been recently exposed as fiction, Frey bears little resemblance to people I know who have entered treatment programs and meetings of AA or NA with the kind of alcohol and drug addiction he describes. Frey’s unconventional recovery method is not only unrealistic and possibly fatal to anyone suffering from devastating substance abuse; it reveals him as the worst kind of fraud.
Throughout the innumerable suspension of facts, logic, and reality in Frey’s yarn, he pretends to be a junkie and a notorious criminal “wanted” in several states and besieged by a legendary past that rivals the fear and loathing of Hunter Thompson. (I doubt the late Thompson ever read Frey’s book, but if he had, he would have laughed out loud at its sophomoric absurdity.) Apparently, Frey’s imaginary saga was originally proposed as fiction and rejected by 17 publishers; presumably because even bad fiction has to have some semblance of credibility. When Frey resubmitted the work as an autobiography, Nan Talese at Doubleday saw her Judith Regan opportunity and seized it.
Doubleday (and later, Oprah Winfrey) touted the book as shocking, relentlessly honest, and other sickening superlatives that would catapult the author into super stardom. That Frey was able to scam Winfrey (and all her producers) is astonishing; that he would pass muster with any friend of Bill W’s is utterly impossible.
The Smoking Gun published an exposé on the numerous lies it uncovered in Frey’s book, but one of the most glaring ones that belies his claims of juvenile delinquency and party warrior status is the fact that he attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and graduated in four years. There is no way on earth Frey could have been accepted to Denison had he been a fraction of the problem child he boasts of being, much less achieved the GPA required to maintain good standing at the university, regardless of his father’s status as an executive. At least two famous millionaires’ sons flunked out of The College of Wooster and Baldwin-Wallace, mirror institutions to Denison, during my tenure. Frey’s bold admission that he was “an alcoholic and addict for 10 years” by the time he was 23, as he claims in his speeches and advertisements for his book, is simply ludicrous. Do the math, Oprah.
While Frey is laughing all the way to the bank, millions of readers have been duped. Thousands of substance abusers who think Frey’s “Hold On” slogan for staying sober is an easier, softer way to recover than attending meetings, therapy, finding a sponsor, practicing rigorous honesty and avoiding temptation are flirting with disaster. There may be alternatives to the 12-step program in achieving long-term sobriety, but none of them entail preternatural will-power, manipulating gullible people, or flaunting your abstinence in bars and drug houses. The only person who could do that is a narcissistic con who was never an addict in the first place.