Sunday, January 29, 2006

James Frey: Did he swear on a stack of Bibles?

First of all, I admit right off that I haven't read the book, and I won't. The one thing that does interest me about the James Frey "A Million Little Pieces" controversy is its continued presence on best-seller lists. I suppose at this point there may be some people who still haven't heard about the apparent falsehoods Frey incorporated into the memoir, and a greater number who might now be buying the book simply to see for themselves what all the fuss is about. My amusement derives from those who, unlike the many readers who've understandably given vent to feelings of betrayal by the author or his publishers, don't seem to view the book in a much different light at all. I've now read a number of reports that include reactions of the reading public (see, e.g., Edward Wyatt, "Questions for Others in Frey Scandal," NYT 28 January 2006), and a significant number argue that it's still a good story, despite the now admitted inaccuracies and the condemnations of Frey and his book that have resulted from their exposure. Some book clubs, apparently, still plan to make it their next selection for reading. Some claim they don't trust the accuracy of autobiographies in the first place, so it would be pointless, apparently, to feel misled. Such statements attest to the need for serious discussions of changing attitudes towards truth, objectivity, and accountability (see, e.g., Michiko Kakutani, "Bending the Truth in a Million Little Ways," NYT 17 January 2006). As for me, though, I just wonder how many of these readers make up the part of the reading public that increasingly finds fiction irrelevant--compared, say, to such riveting accounts of "real" life as "A Million Little Pieces"? It seems as though an increasing number of readers these days simply don't "get" fiction. But if the facts, rendered as accurately as possible by the non-fiction author, are of little importance, is there really a problem with the "unreality" of the novel? Feeling betrayed by unrepentant purveyors of falsehood would at least be consistent with a professed interest in an objective truth of the "real"; for those less concerned with verifiable experience, wouldn't Cervantes do just as well? By the way, if you're old enough to remember the controversy that dogged Carlos Castaneda's "The Teachings of Don Juan", raise your hand. I admit I still like the book, whatever the questions about its veracity, although if I'd known for sure it was fiction in non-fiction clothing before I bought it, I probably wouldn't have. I also admit that I enjoy parts of the Bible, although I find many of the situations and incidents difficult to believe, and many of the characters are irritating, if not altogether unlikable. But then I don't think of fiction as irrelevant; I just like to know what I'm buying into.

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