By James Frey
Reviewed by Katy P.
As addicts and alcoholics, we’re prone to getting stuck in the victim role. It’s what thwarts our recovery in many cases, holding us back from taking action in our lives, from making decisions and choices to live better, stop using and drinking. For anyone who has struggled with the “poor me, I can’t change” syndrome, James Frey’s book “A Million Little Pieces” might just help snap you out of it.
There has been quite a bit of hype over this book since its April 2003 release. This being Frey’s first literary work, he’s a rookie who came out of the dugout swinging away. Media interviews abounded. He was quickly dubbed a “literary bad boy” because of his no nonsense responses to questions, his profane vocabulary, his rejection of Alcoholics Anonymous, and his completely unapologetic stance regarding his zealous ambitions in the literary world. Marketed as an addiction memoir, the book has attracted both positive and negative feedback. Adversaries call it exaggerated, repetitive, cliché, and some have even called Frey’s accounts of his addiction and experiences in recovery outright lies (see anesthesia-less root canal passage.) Proponents of the work, however, find his lack of adherence to standard writing rules refreshing, the overt gore with which the withdrawal experience is described honest, and his short, repetitive and choppy prose engaging and addictive.
My perspective as a recovering addict: this isn’t your usual addiction memoir. That much is true. If you think you’ve read it all and heard it all, and this book could only elicit yawns, I challenge you to crack it open. The prose is painfully vivid, pointed, and evocative. Almost any addict will relate to Frey. And the one thing all the hype has gotten right is that Frey has his own style of writing—he does away with style all together. Rules of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, are ignored. The author hits his mark with this one—it’s addictive. The reader is drawn and pulled into Frey’s saga, his thoughts, his mental rants and anguish like a runaway train is pulled downhill. The lack of grammatical structure removes pauses and breaks in thoughts and dialogue and leads you further and further down the rabbit hole into the story. And it’s a wild ride.
As far as exaggerated accounts go, I can see how those who haven’t struggled with substance abuse could be skeptical of Frey’s story. But those of us who have been in active addiction know how easy it would be to shock others with honest descriptions of how much of our drug we consumed over a given period of time. I even shock myself sometimes when I think of my own using experiences. The question is, why would we want to retell these tales? For some of us, at one time, it made us feel better about ourselves. “Look how cool I am, I used to drink this much.” But those of us who are seriously changing our lives and our ways find bragging is pointless and empty, an old behavior that doesn’t bring us any glory or self-respect. I believe Frey was merely painting a picture of the person he used to be to illustrate how low he had sunk. It’s clear from his writing that he’s neither proud nor validated by his drug and alcohol use and the violent, destructive person that emerged as a result. The guy is just telling his story from his perspective.
The most important thing about this book for me was the simple message: you don’t have to use if you choose not to. The book got through to me. It doesn’t matter who you are, how far down you’ve gone in your addiction, how weak or strong you think you are or how much damage you’ve done in your life. You don’t have to use, and it’s not about steps or a Higher Power or a sponsor. It’s about making a choice and living differently and taking responsibility for your own life and actions. What Frey taught me in this work is that it doesn’t matter how many “experts in their field” tell you you’re going to fail and why. If you take some control of your life, take responsibility for past actions and choices, and make an honest, concerted effort to do better, you can. People can tell you you’ll fail all day. It’s ultimately your choice. And I love this book for that message of personal strength and triumph alone. My advice: read this book now!