The year was 2006 and Oprah Winfrey had selected James Frey’s memoir about his stint in rehab, A Million Little Pieces, as her book of the month. I cannot recall if that was the first I had heard or seen of the book, but I do remember wanting to read it: it had a neat cover. You’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but we all know we do anyway. But then it was revealed that this bestseller was less biography and more fantasy, and although I maintained an interest in the book, it was far more muted and other works took precedence.
Flash forward to the present and I have finally read this controversial piece of fiction. My verdict? I still like the cover. My opinion on the insides are less positive.
It starts off okay, once you get used to Frey’s stylistic choices, specifically the utter lack of quotation marks and run-on sentences. But around page 150 or 200 the constant repetition starts to feel less artistic choice and more akin to someone trying very hard to be artistic. The further along the story goes the more ridiculous it gets.
Jimmy is a Tough Guy™. He beat a priest (maybe to death!), had multiple root canals done at the same time with no drugs, got in a billy club fight with a bunch of cops, had a hooker snort a line off his neither region, etc. He is smarter than the rehab counselors and doctors, too. Twelve Steps? Phaw! Jimmy is stronger than those puny programs. Don’t think too hard about if willpower is enough to over come addiction why he never did it before; just focus on his being super Tough™.
Far too many pages of this nonsense unfolds until finally, without any real warning, a light bulb goes off and he “gets it”. He is cured from his ills, his past is behind him, everything is starting to look bright. Most of his rehab buddies do not get a the same sunny afterlife, having instead rather dramatic deaths. The latter part of the book felt like really bad fanfiction: that’s how melodramatic their deaths are written. Of course the reason almost everyone dies is because then there are no witnesses to confirm or deny everything you just read!
Even so, I find myself curious to read the follow-up novel.