Wednesday, January 25, 2006

One tiny more thing on Frey

(how long can this go on?!?), a great essay by Emily Carter, The Lie Behind the Lies:

In every recovery group that I participated in, at Hazelden and elsewhere, there was a type of young man who tended to do a lot of what in recovery jargon is called 'maximizing.' Everyone is familiar with the minimizing, otherwise known as denial--the cirrhosis patient who can't understand why she's hospitalized, all she ever drank was a little wine after dinner. The maximizers I encountered went the other way: They'd bluster about having snorted mountains of cocaine, smoked rocks the size of glaciers, shot up six thousand dollars a day. All were wanted by the law, you bet. Generally speaking, maximizers were young, affluent males.

This is no news, really. Any barmaid will tell you that men can mythologize themselves and each other like nobody's business. Really, though, these young men are simply protecting their soft centers with layer upon layer of braggadocio, like drowning out Roy Orbison with the Scarface soundtrack. But to write from this point of self-ignorance is to send out a false report. Frey clearly wanted to write not of, but as, the person he wanted to be. His agenda was to glamorize himself, make himself look clear-eyed and potent at the expense of other people. Frey's mistake is one that all writers, even good ones, make when they're starting out. The self-glorifying or blame-dodging impulse is easy to spot. 'No more misunderstood waifs!' I remember one instructor yelling in a writing workshop. And yes, he was yelling at me. I was 18 years old, and if anything I had written then were to be published now I would use it as a valid excuse for a major relapse.

Carter is the author of the really excellent story collection Glory Goes and Gets Some, which I highly recommend; I don't usually read/like story collections, but this one has the pleasures of a very good novel.

(Thanks to Sarah for the link.)

1 comment:

  1. Apparently, Frey just today confessed all to The Almighty Oprah, admitting to the profuse fictionalization of his so-called memoir.

    Oprah’s appalled reaction to his public admission comes off as na├»ve and somewhat implausible. She adamantly accused him of having “betrayed millions of readers,” including herself. But has Oprah completely lost sight of the fact that she herself exists dually; that “Oprah” is basically a media construction, not a real person? While I believe that Oprah’s stardom is indeed significant in the ways in which her image subverts stereotypes concerning blacks, women, and finally, black women, I cannot help but harbor a wariness around the facts of her television superstardom and zillionaire economic status. While Oprah professes to demonstrate an emotional authenticity and a profound concern for the civil rights of marginalized groups and peoples, she is representative of a medium which actually seeks to deprive society of diversity and homogenize its political value system. For some, Oprah represents a mythic sage or spiritual guide rising from the ashes of an increasingly impersonal and dehumanizing era. But in truth, so-to-speak, she is an incredibly famous talk show host netting serious dough for both herself and the corporations which employ her to sell the sentimental hell out of any product she chooses. And one of those products is the book.

    I have different feelings about Frey’s actions. For one, it kind of sucks that he fibbed. But on the other hand, how many other ‘memoirs’ out there played around with the hard cold facts? In addition, how many novels being passed off as fiction are actually ‘true’ stories? Are we really that earnest of a society that we expect everyone to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth 100 percent of the time, particularly in a capitalist economy? Such an expectation perhaps speaks volumes about the kind of existence we realize we do not have, and are getting further away from, where authenticity ranks above financial gain. In a sense, Frey was just playing the corporate game he was instructed to participate in, that of proving himself economically viable to the book industry by providing a sellable story that received mass attention. He heaped the rewards as a result, but fell from grace when his story was declared a sham.

    As us artists know full well, even negative publicity is good publicity. Frey’s book will most likely start flying off the shelf at a faster clip than upon its release, and he may even find himself cornered by leagues of hungry publishers with dollar signs in their eyes.

    Perhaps if Borders and Barnes and Noble had shelved “A Million Little Pieces” in their literature section to begin with, Oprah’s good intentions would never have been so tactlessly taken advantage of. And we’d all be tearing some other pseudo-artiste to pieces. But the phenomenon ensures continued attention on Frey, not to mention on Oprah. Makes you wonder if the whole thing was rigged up from the beginning, doesn’t it?