A million tall tales?
January 3, 2006 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I don't know quite how to frame this question, but basically, I just finished reading "A million little pieces" after having it recommended to me by just about everyone, and I absolutely hated it. Which is neither here nor there, but in addition, I didn't believe a word of it - can anyone help with that? (Possible spoilers inside...)

This isn't meant to disparage anyone who liked the book, just that I thought a lot of it didn't add up and was wondering if anyone knew of any research done on it, or facts surrounding it. All I can find is glowing reviews championing his perseverance, and personal opinions as to the veracity of the account. I find it suspicious that so many of the facts presented in the book cannot be quickly or obviously verified (anonymity, personal experience, so on). Is there a record of Frey's arrest and jail time? Anything that can corroborate his story?

It's sold as a memoir, but many on the internet seem to agree with me in taking exception to the (SPOILERS) description of the dental surgery without anesthetic, the actions of the staff at the rehab clinic, the friends he made inside, including the "mob boss" and the federal judge, who also is apparantly in the practice of reducing jail sentances in foreign jurisdictions for wanted, violent drug offenders, the description of the beating of the priest in Paris, the description of a horrifically addicited and physically destroyed man making an almost perfect recovery within 6 weeks, while falling in love with a girl he rescues from a crack house with the help of hospital staff, which he disparages, ignores, and mocks while breaking the rules of the institution and not getting kicked out, and so on. None of it rings true to me. Not even remotely, and it's really bugging me. Am I: a) plain wrong to be doubting this tale, b) missing the concept of artistic license, or c) correct in believing that the book is a pack of dangerous lies designed to make him look like a modern-day Holden Caulfield while single-handedly slaying the twin dragons of Dave Eggers and Brett Ellis live on Oprah?
posted by loquax to Media & Arts (32 answers total)
 
I thought it was a good story, but I had the same reaction: it's too good.

And the whole bit about dental surgery without anaesthesia just stretched believability. I've known a number of people in recovery (though not, to be completely honest, in rehab) who have had surgery and other medical treatment using anaesthesia and, in very limited and controlled quantities, narcotic painkillers.

The needle on my BS meter was definitely twitching.
posted by baltimore at 10:36 AM on January 3, 2006


I'm afraid I can't answer your questions, but I'm with you all the way. The parts with his parents rang true enough for me, but I thought most of it was complete fiction.

Did you know that he wrote a second "memoir" that's all about Leonard?
posted by amarynth at 10:38 AM on January 3, 2006


My father has had root canals done without anaesthesia, twice. Grin & bear it I guess.
posted by voidcontext at 10:42 AM on January 3, 2006


Did you know that he wrote a second "memoir" that's all about Leonard?

I just found out. I think I'll pass!

My father has had root canals done without anaesthesia, twice. Grin & bear it I guess.


There was a random post I read somewhere on the internet by someone who called themselves a dentist that claimed that it was now somehow "illegal" or perhaps unethical for that kind of surgery to be performed without anesthesia, and that patients cannot sign off on such a procedure. No idea if that is true or not. Also that post claimed that the timeframe for the dental surgery was ludicrous, for some reason. For what it's worth.
posted by loquax at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2006


Well here's one guy who agrees with you.
posted by fleacircus at 10:56 AM on January 3, 2006


Chiming in from dental land here. I am Still not a dentist, but we do have patients who experience pain during a procedure, regardless of how many carpules of carbocaine or whatever are administered. This is often the result of infection that interferes (somehow) with the anesthetic. (Which is why you should always take all of your antibiotics as directed, even though you think you feel better and want to stop taking them. That's right, take them. Thank you.)

I haven't read this book, but maybe this character had something truly urgent going on in there and the procedure was performed along those lines?
posted by bilabial at 11:01 AM on January 3, 2006


I'm so glad that someone else hated it as much as I did...I was starting to feel like an unemotional bastard.
posted by elquien at 11:04 AM on January 3, 2006


More critical commentary, in parody form!
posted by mr_roboto at 11:04 AM on January 3, 2006


Holy shit dear god ...all I can say is DOMO ARIGATO MR_ROBOTO! Best laugh I've had in weeks.
posted by spicynuts at 11:16 AM on January 3, 2006


I hated it, too. I didn't think much about the veracity of it one way or the other, I just thought it was crummy. The story was mildly moving, but his writing style seemed so contrived. In fact, I finished it because I kept hoping I'd see what so many others have seen - and at the end I was grumpy about wasting my time. I had just read Augusten Burroughs's "Dry," which I quite liked, and I thought that might have unfairly colored my reading of Frey. Nice to see others didn't like it.

As for dental work without anesthesia, my mother has had half a dozen root canals without it (because she's crazy - afraid of the needle). So I doubt loquax's source is right.
posted by katie at 11:18 AM on January 3, 2006


I haven't read this book, but maybe this character had something truly urgent going on in there and the procedure was performed along those lines?

The idea was (if you don't mind the spoiler) that as a drug addict in rehab, it was the policy of the rehab clinic (although it wasn't very clear, and the website doesn't seem to shed light on it) that no anesthetic (including novocaine) could be administered to him during a root canal and some other graphically described dental work. Which sounds absurd to me, not being a dentist or an 19th century soldier on the battlefield (or to be fair, an addiction treatment specialist).

Also, there is, in fact, a federal judge in Florida named Miles Davis. Assuming this is the same Miles Davis referenced in the book, I find it very odd that he would not want to remain anonymous, considering both his presence in the hospital and his (at least implied) actions on behalf on the residents.

Thanks all for the links, it is indeed good to know that perhaps I am not a heartless monster. In this case anyways.
posted by loquax at 11:27 AM on January 3, 2006


bilabial: I read in an Amazon review or something that it's because his detox clinic was extremely strict and didn't allow any chemicals whatsoever during the process because it would allegedly reset the whole effort.
posted by abcde at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2006


Here's the original review from one of the sites linked above. Maybe now I'm just being mean, but I really liked that review:

Frey resorts to violence to prove he's no homosexual, confessing (that is to say, boasting) that he beat a French priest to death for daring to place his hand on Frey's utterly masculine thigh.

It's odd that a novel in which a gay-bashing murder is treated so casually should be so esteemed in the US. I thought y'all had decided that it was no longer OK to beat gay men to death for casual come-ons.


I would also be quite outraged by that depiction of the unpunished brutal beating, if I believed for a second that it happened the way Frey described it, if at all.
posted by loquax at 11:43 AM on January 3, 2006


I read fleacircus' link and while the guy made some strong assertions, he never backed it up. I'd like some evidence that Frey stole from Little. He made a lot of assertions but never really proved his point.

All that said, I interviewed Frey when My Friend Leonard came out. I asked about the allegations and assertions and Frey assured me both books spent quite a bit of time with the lawyers, ensuring no one (namely the publisher) would get sued over them.

Maybe the truth in somewhere in the middle. I've never heard of Eddie Little but I'd like to check his stuff out.
posted by Atom12 at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2006


Oh God I HATED this book!! Everyone including my mother recommended it to me because, you know I'm in recovery so I would be able to "relate". It was a manipulative contrived bunch of crap in my opinion. I have been to several fine rehabilitation centers and never once was it ever suggested that anyone needed to suffer extreme pain to stay sober. if anything, healthy pain control methods were taught to help the prescription junkies stay sober. This book sucks.
posted by yodelingisfun at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2006


Jeez, y'all are much stronger people than I. I couldn't even finish it in part because I didn't trust it all all, either -- try as I might to believe otherwise, it just had the undeniable whiff of shit that came out a bull to it. (The beyond-irritating writing style didn't score any points with me either.) Just a dreadful, dreadful book.
posted by scody at 3:25 PM on January 3, 2006


didn't trust it all all = didn't trust it at all
posted by scody at 3:26 PM on January 3, 2006


I enjoyed the book a great deal, but my BS meter went way up as well. I accepted it as b.s. and simply considered it an interesting piece of fiction. It reminded me of a cheesy self-help book mixed with gangsters, corrupt judges, and unbelieveable detective work ( finding Lily in the abandoned warehouse??? Come on. )
posted by jasondigitized at 5:01 PM on January 3, 2006


I didn't even realize it was supposed to be a true story until I finished it. I just thought it was an entertaining junkie story written in a somewhat-difficult-to-read format.
posted by antifuse at 2:31 AM on January 4, 2006


I used to be an assistant for an endodontist, and he routinely performed root canals without anesthesia. If the nerve in the tooth is dead, then most of the discomfort comes from the sustained position of your jaw.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:52 AM on January 4, 2006


It's odd that a novel in which a gay-bashing murder is treated so casually should be so esteemed in the US. I thought y'all had decided that it was no longer OK to beat gay men to death for casual come-ons.

I would also be quite outraged by that depiction of the unpunished brutal beating, if I believed for a second that it happened the way Frey described it, if at all.


Oh give me a break. It wasn't a gay-bashing murder, it was a predatory-priest-bashing assault.

That doesn't justify it, but if you read the book it seems screamingly blaringly obvious that Frey himself didn't feel it was justified, and felt haunted by it.
posted by xmutex at 12:16 PM on January 4, 2006


Yes, but in a selfish way. As in "look at what the drugs turned me into, I'm a monster, pity me", not "I deserve to be punished for attempted murder if not manslaughter (as he himself says that he may have killed him)". Sexual harassment between two adults, priest or not is in no way justification for the kind of assault he describes. And there was no further discussion about the matter. Is that priest still lying on the floor? Is he dead? Crippled? Does Frey still feel crummy about it after he told the other priest? Are we supposed to feel sympathy for him? Are we supposed to be happy that through none of his own actions or taking any kind of responsibility for the person that he had become he managed to beat the system, recover without the 12 steps, minimize his jail time dramatically, become the adopted son of a mob boss that would ensure his future stability and fall in love?

(But yes, all the linked to articles were over the top. I did take some visceral pleasure in reading them though)
posted by loquax at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2006


As in "look at what the drugs turned me into, I'm a monster, pity me"

Maybe you read a different book than me, but in not a single sentence did I sense that Frey wanted pity. I think that he realized what a monster he was and had been and did not pull any punches in attempting to make the reader feel similar hatred for his acts and for the person who he was.
posted by xmutex at 5:14 PM on January 4, 2006


Well, keep in mind that I'm interpreting it based on the fact that I'm very skeptical of the truth of the book as a whole, and in the details.

That being said, I can't help but read an appeal for pity throughout the whole book. He seems to cast himself as a tragic hero - he's not a dumb junkie like the rest of the losers in the clinic, let alone the ones on the street. He's thoughtful, tough, and (as is made abundantly clear) in a great deal of physical, mental and emotional pain. While he claims to take responsibility for his actions, he never actually does. He indirectly blames his parents, circumstance, the drugs themselves, his own genetic predisposition, anything but his own actions. At the very least, he presents alternatives for the reader to blame instead of him. He's like a bizzaro Holden Caulfield, drifting through life, thinking he's above it all without realizing he sounds like the very epitome of a spoiled brat. If he really was a crack addict, and if he really did the kinds of things he talked about, he was probably the luckiest junkie in the world, and if I had to go through what he went through, I'd want my experience to be just like his. He doesn't seem to understand that, and writes as if he is on a par with the addicts I see every day on the streets around my house, sleeping in stairwells in the snow, having sex for money, getting AIDS and god knows what else and dying by 25. Caulfield was written ironically, and the reader was meant to pity him in a sense, but Frey wasn't. If we presume that he genuinely believes what he's saying, and genuinely went through what he went through, then the entire novel is a direct appeal to the reader to pity him for the things that he experienced. Sure he calls himself a monster, sure he describes some of the things he did, but none of it (with the exception, perhaps, of the priest, which I don't buy anyways, and is conveniently mitigated by the same-sex come on at a time when Catholic priests are viewed more as criminals than innocents by default) was that bad. What I remember is that he loved a girl and lost her because of the drugs and drinking. And he lied to his parents. And he got in relatively minor trouble with the cops. And was non-permanently physical ill for a long time because of the drugs. This (in my opinion) is the classic trick of eliciting sympathy by being hard on yourself when your self-criticism is over the top - like the husband who tells his wife that she's too good for him, and that she deserves better, or the child that says that nobody loves them. I've read books before that have truly horrified me, and probably helped in warning me away from drugs at one point or another (trainspotting comes to mind) - if anything this book seems to show how fun rehab can be, and how few consequences there are to addiction. Which makes his self-lamentations all the more ridiculous, if you ask me. If he really pulled no punches in attempting to have the reader join him in his self-indentification as a monster, there's no way the book would have made it as a bestseller and an Oprah pick. It also would have been a far better book in my opinion, fiction or not.
posted by loquax at 7:13 AM on January 5, 2006


If he really pulled no punches in attempting to have the reader join him in his self-indentification as a monster, there's no way the book would have made it as a bestseller and an Oprah pick.

This is your (biased) opinion. I was surprised Oprah did pick it precisely because I felt he very much wanted us to share in his very low opinion of the person he was.

I guess this thread can serve as testimony to how a book can be read and interpreted very differently by different people.

It seems like you bought a lot of prejudice to the book (it being chosen by Oprah, etc). Maybe you wanted to read it a certain way. Maybe not.
posted by xmutex at 1:02 PM on January 6, 2006


Well, well, well. Looks like it's A Million Little Lies after all.
posted by scody at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2006


To be honest, I'm surprised at how much appears to have actually sort of-kind of happened. I was thinking some of those incidents would have been complete nonsense instead of fantastic embellishment. Of course, he probably reserved the total lies for the parts of the book that can't be verified. Thanks for the link. Now it's time to debate whether or not to actually pass it on to some of the people that so highly recommended it to me.

xmutex: I definitely agree with you about different people's interpretations. I suppose in the end it doesn't matter if any of it is true, or what he meant to convey if people take positive things out of reading it. To be honest though, I hadn't prejudged it before reading it - I didn't even know who he was or that it was an Oprah pick, only that a variety of people had very highly recommended it. I actually liked it until about a third of the way in (although the lack of quoting dialogue and the random capitalization may have started to bias me against it from the beginning).
posted by loquax at 4:31 PM on January 8, 2006


Yeah so uh forget everything I said.
posted by xmutex at 7:25 PM on January 8, 2006


You, sir, are correct.
posted by designbot at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2006


And the NYTimes weighs in.
posted by alms at 4:36 PM on January 9, 2006


The POWER of Ask.Mefi! Go loquax!
posted by shoepal at 1:56 PM on January 11, 2006


I'd really like to see the Smoking Gun make a few phone calls to Paris and research assaults on priests.

Can that part of the book be pinned down to a time and place? Such a serious assault can't have gone unreported, surely, even if the priest was unlikely to have told the truth about it? "Priest beaten half to death in Paris church" isn't the kind of headline that gets ignored in a fervently Catholic country.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:37 PM on January 11, 2006


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