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A Million Little Suckers

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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.

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About Loretta Dillon

Loretta Dillon began her writing career publishing a neighborhood newspaper and handwritten and illustrated books as a child in a Cleveland suburb. Her strongest literary influences were MAD magazine and Mark Twain. When introduced to the internet, Dillon created a blog to showcase her satire that evolved into a popular forum on relationships, recovery and true crime stories, specifically spousal murder. Selected entries were published as a book in 2005 that was honored as a finalist for a non-fiction "Blooker" award. Dillon's comedy play, "The Smoking Diary" was produced off-Broadway in 2009.
  • Nick

    Somebody said they didn’t believe that somebody like James Frey could have gotten into Denison and graduated on time. Thats bull. I go to Denison and its not that hard to get into and get a scholarship as long as you have good test scores. Test scores aren’t that hard. Denison was a wild school back when James Frey went here. There were a ton of coke heads and alcoholics. The school has been cracking down on that hard for the last 10 years and has had a lot of success.

  • Well, apparently I am not alone in my observations and have been vindicated by Oprah.

    Sorry about that, Frey Fans.

  • Well, Lora, I think the difference is that it would obviously be necessary to read a book in order to review it. I’d further imagine that many of the people with strong opinions haven’t read it either. It’s clearly not necessary to know much about something to form an opinion.

    Modern technology – dontcha just love it, dontcha?

  • Lora Richman

    Christopher Rose, what’s the difference, really?

  • Could I just point out that this is an OPINION piece and not a book review as several commenters have remarked…

  • Lauren Nathan

    This review, while lengthy, only illustrates that the reviewer is an avid tv viewer and a person who makes fantastic leaps in logic to arrive at her opinion.

    Her position is arrived at through viewing numerous television programs discussing James Frey and reading “almost 60 pages of the book” she found on the internet.

    This review caught my attention as one of the most commented on blogcritics.com today, and it is quickly apparent the cause of such interest.

    Mrs. Dillon, if wild assumptions can be made from reading such a small sampling of a work (such as “almost 60 pages”) I suppose I am qualified to suggest that it is you who is the fake and the fraud.

    I won’t suggest that, however, as I know my assumption is based on too little information.

  • Kristin Denner

    What do you mean by “more than a passing familiarity”? Have you been to Rehab or did you work at a rehab facility? Who do you think is responsible for the “scam, “sham” or what have you, Mr. Frey has been accused of? Is it not his own story to tell?

  • Ed Brownrigg

    E.F. Hutton (Loretta Dillon) said…
    Dalton is getting HAMMERED on Amazon.

    Worse than any of my 1-star reviewers, because these are people who actually READ the book.

    I can’t wait to fisk the bejeebus out of it.

    December 16, 2005 7:33 PM

    Did the book reviewer actually READ Mr. Frey’s book? She claims that she has “found over 60 pages of the book and now have a copy from the local library that I picked up today.” (January 12, 2006) Yet she wrote the review here on the 11th of January.

    The credibility (or lack thereof) and hypocrisy of Loretta Dillon has encouraged me to purchase the book, posthaste.

  • Maggie

    Personal attacks are not allowed. Please read comment policy. Please take your ad hominem attacks elsewhere.

  • Martha Noble

    And your qualifications for this statment was from all your time in rehab?

    “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.”

    You being the QUEEN of “manipulating gullible people” with your book?

  • Scott Butki

    Here is the best piece I have read yet about the situation.
    I’m writing up my own satire piece as I type this. And I’m offering refunds on it too.

  • Peter Pulaski

    Here you admit you have only read a little bit of the book,

    “Actually, since Monday evening, I have found over 60 pages of the book and now have a copy from the local library that I picked up today.

    The book is even more preposterous than the review indicates.”

    and you base your “review” on that?

    AMAZING! Are there no requirements that the reviewer actually read the book before writing a review? I guess not. Maybe watching others talk about a book on TV is enough qualification to write a review.

    It makes one wonder about your qualifications to write anything.

  • J. Kilgore

    Well written review. It made me interested in the other books the author (Loretta Dillon) has reviewed. Unfortunately, Mrs. Dillon (a self-published author of a book “Stone Cold Guilty”)
    seems to have a chip on her shoulder where best selling authors (represented by large publishing houses) are concerned.

  • Ariel

    The blogger said “Frey’s first three paragraphs didn’t pass my sniff test, and I don’t believe most recovering addicts have ever heard of him before now.”

    Considering that there are so many recovering addicts, on what do you base this statement? Isn’t it a bit presumptuous? Do you really know that many of the millions of recovering addicts? Or are you simply making a statement you can not possibly defend? I wouldn’t expect “most” to know him.

  • Tony Parker

    In her typical Dillon “style”, Loretta has once again demonstrated her ability to jump on a popular person to bash long before she has her facts straight.

    She think some facts are more “factual” that other facts long before she has even finished reading Frey’s book. Incredible!

    It appears she is more interested in plugging her shriveling website more than anything else.

  • Dan

    Ok, I’ll agree that Frey has misrepresented himself and embellished his story. His credibility is questionable, at the very least. But don’t you think calling him a “purveyor of death” is a bit extreme?

    Quote: “Frey is evil. He isn’t just a purveyor of fiction, he’s a purveyor of death. He isn’t even just a joke, anymore…. ”
    (Posted by loretta at January 11, 2006 3:30 PM)

    It almost sounds as if the blogger’s indignation toward Frey is personal. It makes me question the blogger’s opinion, especially since she admits she wrote her review before reading his work.

    Just my humble opinion.

  • Lucinda

    From the blogger’s blog:

    “I don’t know if I’ll have time to include his garbage on my reading list, but if it’s easy and free to get from the li-barry, I’ll check it out.

    I have about 7 books in front of it. He’s not worth much more of my time.”

    Posted by: loretta at January 12, 2006 10:34 AM

  • Jack S.

    How does someone ‘find’ partial pages of a best selling book? And then write a review based on this small ‘found’ sample? I think I’ll move on now. A tad pot calling kettle black here I think.

  • Actually, since Monday evening, I have found over 60 pages of the book and now have a copy from the local library that I picked up today.

    The book is even more preposterous than the review indicates.

  • Jack S.

    Is it true that you are basing this critique after reading only three paragraphs of this book? I’m interested in someone whose read the whole thing thanks.

  • Carrie Snow

    Interesting. However, with all due respect, I question the validity of the opinion of a blogger who admits on her blog that she has not read the work of the author in question.

    Especially in light of this blogger’s previously stated and well known opinion that others should not review what they have not read.

    Thank you for listening.

  • Nice article, but the irony is that you’re feeding the ‘bad press is good press’ dog—- today, as it was yesterday, Frey’s book is the #1 in Books at Amazon. Swindler or not, he looks like a genius to me.

  • Augusten Burroughs has been facing the same questions.

    Dave Sedaris has not.

    Truthfulness is more of an issue when the book has little to no literary merit. Sedaris can get by saying that his stories are “more or less” true. Burroughs and Frey cannot.

  • I found more excerpts of Frey’s book online and read his descriptions of the famous treatment center in Minnesota where he claims to have stayed. I have more than a passing familiarity with how these places operate.

    I would wager that Hazelden, where Frey claims to have stayed, does not allow co-ed fraternizing, definitely has rigid restrictions about curfews, gambling, counselor-client relationships, and other traditions that refute the absurd narrative Frey presents about his experiences.

    It also has a waiting list. Which means that Frey and his folks didn’t walk in and sit in a waiting room like they were at the ER or something. It does NOT work that way. In fact, Hazelden wouldn’t have even let him in the door.

    There is so much security at these places, you cannot walk in and knock on the sliding glass window like it’s the pediatrician’s office.

    If his injuries were real (probably not, or his parents would not have let him lie in the car), he would have been sent to a hospital first to go through detox and have his injuries attended to. Also, he would have been permitted prescription pain killers under medical supervision, and anesthesia for any dental work.

    As long as he was not on a Demerol drip for a week, he would have been fine.

    Frey’s first three paragraphs didn’t pass my sniff test, and I don’t believe most recovering addicts have ever heard of him before now.

    There is nothing more insulting to the recovery community than a poseur whose recommendations for staying clean and sober are a death wish for 95% of recovering addicts.

    He’s toast. Just give it time.

  • Ah, and with that I can’t argue. Thanks, Loretta 🙂

  • Hi Looney. I don’t doubt for a minute that teens get involved in D&A very young – I used to sponser a few.

    However, Frey could not have been as bad off as he claims in that period of time (from the time he was 13) and STILL be accepted at a private school like Denison (he had to have pretty good grades and very good SAT or ACT scores) and then graduate in 4 years.

    That’s what I think is Full Of Beans. Among other things.

  • Hi, good writing. I heartily agree with nearly everything you write. One small exception is the “10 years by 23” criticism. While it would definitely be the exception, it is certainly not unrealistic by any stretch, let alone ludicrous. During my years in Alateen I was aware of people, and I think we all know one or two, who dove right into substance abuse in their early teens and spiraled down from there.

    Anyway, good work over all, just a minor quibble 🙂

  • Thanks, Shark. I am feverishly typing up something and will be sending it off to Miss Perky real soon.

  • Shark

    Victor, try to get your readers to squirt a few.

    Think tragedy.

    Think vicarious problems followed by “happily ever after”.

    Think emotional pornography.

    In short, see Katie Couric for more.

    Yer welcome!

  • Nice job, Loretta! This story bothers me particulary because I have sent “O” each of my three books (all fiction) and have heard nothing, and this guy comes along and gets on the show. Grrrr!!!!!