A Million Little Lessons
Ever since The Smoking Gun Web site first questioned the truth of some of the incidents detailed in the book, controversy over author James Frey's memoir "A Million Little Pieces" has raged for weeks at a level rarely seen in U.S. literary circles, and the debate has even called into question the veracity of other memoir-like works published over the years.
Frey (pronounced "Fry") finally confessed to Oprah Winfrey yesterday on US TV that he made up details about every character in his book documenting his supposed struggle against drug and alcohol addiction and the talk show host apologised to her viewers, saying she felt "duped".
"I have been really embarrassed by this," said Winfrey, whose praise for Frey's book in September helped make it the top-selling book on non-fiction lists in the United States last year. Frey's book had been chosen by Winfrey for her reading club, an honour which often turns books into best sellers. The book sold more than 1.77 million copies last year after being chosen by Winfrey.
"I really feel duped," she told Frey on her television show. She said he had betrayed millions of viewers.
At one point early in the interview Frey said he still viewed the work as a memoir, not a novel. By the show's end Winfrey made him admit he lied.
"This hasn't been a great day for me," he said. "I feel like I came here and I have been honest with you. I have, you know, essentially admitted to ..."
"Lying," Winfrey interrupted.
"To lying," he said. "It's not an easy thing to do in front of an audience full of people and a lot of others watching on TV. ... If I come out of this experience with anything it's being a better person and learning from my mistakes and making sure I don't repeat them."
Winfrey began by apologising to viewers for a telephone call she made to CNN's Larry King Live show on January 11, while King was interviewing Frey about the controversy. In the call Winfrey said that even though the facts were being questioned, the book "still resonates with me" and called the controversy "much ado about nothing".
"I regret that phone call," she told her viewers on Thursday. "I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe."
Sitting with Frey in side-by-side easy chairs, Winfrey quizzed the author point-by-point about his book that described his drug-and-alcohol addiction and the people hurt by it.
"All the way through the book I altered details about every one of the characters," Frey said, "to disguise true identities."
Nan Talese, editorial director from Random House's Doubleday division, which published the book, appeared after Frey and told Winfrey the book went through the usual review process and "I absolutely believed what I read.
"I think this whole experience is very sad. It's very sad for you, it's very sad for us," she said, but "people do not remember the same way. And I thought, as a publisher, this is James' memory of the hell he went through and I believed it."
Asked if The Smoking Gun Web site had accurately characterised the discrepancies, Frey said "I think most of what they wrote was pretty accurate," adding they did "a good job."
Frey said he had developed an image of himself for the book as "being tougher than I was, badder than I was" as a "coping mechanism".
Winfrey asked if that was to make a better book or to make him a better person.
"Probably both," he answered.
It seems there are a million little lessons to be learned from this tale.