So James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, is a big lying liar? The Smoking Gun says so, and their evidence rings more true than the book did. Frey's lawyer is threatening suit, but Smoking Gun editor William Bastone isn't worried ... presumably because the best defence against libel is truth.
Frey apparently not only embellished, but fabricated details of his sordid criminal past – lies that call into question what else in the supposedly non-fiction book, which contained none of the usual disclaimers about altered characters and situations, was invented for dramatic purposes.
The line between fiction and non-fiction is always blurry. Memoir writers invent dialogue and tweak or misremember situations. But Frey went so far across that blurry line, that even the blurriness is blurry in the distance.
Because Oprah Winfrey relaunched her book club with Frey's memoir as her choice, helping it become the second most popular book of 2005 (Harry Potter was first), she is accused of being duped. But the primary dupe was the publisher, and Random House's Doubleday division was even complicit in the deception, either through negligence or manipulation of the truth.
I was one of the duped, too, on a much smaller scale. After I wrote a silly little piece about my aversion to Oprah but happiness that she was restarting her book club, the audiobook publisher of A Million Little Pieces contacted me to do a review of the abridged audiobook version. I did, and liked it, though I was taken more by the lyrical staccato style than the story. It was compelling for a look at a world I couldn't imagine – but, apparently, Frey could. It had the air of being too outrageous to be fiction. I could not have taken it seriously as a novel.