In which I wonder why I persevere with people, places and things that don’t work for me.
If I have a fatal flaw, it’s staying with things that aren’t working for too long.
I blame it on a skewed personal philosophy that if I suffer for long enough some good will come out of it.
I’ve done it with people, jobs, places, living spaces and, most recently, books.
James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was released as a memoir in 2003 and was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club in late 2005. It documented Frey’s time in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, his criminal past and his struggles with sobriety.
Oprah warned her readers the memoir was tough going, but ultimately worth it. After all, as Frey could attest when he joined her on stage during her Book Club reveal episode, A Million Little Pieces was a tale of redemption with if not a happy ending then at least a hopeful one.
Although, how much truth there was to his tale quickly became the subject of heated debate.
In January 2006, an article appeared on The Smoking Gun website entitled “A Million Little Lies” and within a few short weeks the book went from New York Times Bestseller to just one more in an ever-growing collection of memoirs and true stories that were if not entirely made up, then heavily embellished.
This reveal was quickly followed by another Oprah episode in which ‘the gang confront a liar’.
This time around, Frey sat stony-faced on a leather couch while Oprah held his feet to the fire until he eventually acquiesced that, yes, some sections of the book were invented and others grossly exaggerated.
Meanwhile in America, people were hurt and bewildered and wanted money to fix them, so they filed lawsuits with Random House publishing citing fraud.
In a sane universe, these people would probably be told to “go away”, but in 2006 readers who had purchased the book before January 26 (the date on which the literary shit hit the fan) were told they were eligible for a full refund and karmic balance was restored to the universe.
It’s been over a decade since Oprah grilled Frey under hot Harpo Studio lights and in that time, he appears to have parlayed the controversy into solid career.
In 2010, New York Magazine reported Frey was the head of publishing company/ writers’ mill, Full Fathom Five. It functioned not unlike Andy Warhol’s Factory, where large groups of acolytes would “assist” him to produce his next work of art. In Frey’s case, this art would be a series of highly successful, hyper-commercial, Young Adult novels that would rival Twilight.
(I did wonder, given the Shakespeare reference: “Full fathom five thy father lies” and the nature of his endeavour, why Frey didn’t just call his company A Hundred Monkeys and be done with it, but a quick Google search revealed this name was already taken.)
Oprah even had James back for a third and presumably final chat in 2011. I haven’t watched it, but I’m sure it ties up all loose ends and concludes with a hug, as all final acts should.
Now, with all that backstory, who wouldn’t want to read the book the centre of such a literary shitstorm?
I sure did and I was excited to discover whether it would stand on its own now that the furore had well and truly died down.
The novel opens with James, an unrepentant addict, coming to on a plane after a blackout. There’s a hole in his cheek, his front teeth are smashed in and he’s covered in every bodily fluid known to mankind.
He’s soon informed his parents have arranged for him to be taken to a rehabilitation facility in Chicago in a last-ditch effort to save try and save his life.
The plot then follows the rest of his stay in the facility, where James endures a series of excruciatingly painful dental appointments, gets angry with himself and others, vomits (a lot), rejects the twelve-step program in favour of his own less faith-based approach, makes some friends and dances around the rehab centre lip-syncing into a ladle while Sister Sledge’s We are Family plays on the radio.
I haven’t actually finished it yet.
See, I hate this book.
I’m about half-way in and while there are some effective sequences, like a stomach-churning description of a root canal performed without anaesthetic, overall, it’s a chore to read.
I want to stop but there’s this persistent inner voice telling me to suck it up and keep at it.
After all, I’ve done harder things than this before and who knows what kind of karmic reward I’ll get for sticking it out?
And with all that going on upstairs, finishing the thing feels less like a choice and more of a duty.
This feeling is nothing new. It’s kept me in bad jobs, bad apartments, bad neighbourhoods and bad relationships all of which I could have left much earlier than I did.
Instead, I chose to stick with them, not out of necessity, but out of what I can only describe as a weird commitment to long-term discomfort.
There has to be a logical reason why I behave this way and why I feel such a sense of guilt around the idea of quitting the people, places and things that aren’t working for me.
If there isn’t, then I’m wasting my limited time on this planet willingly engaging in activities and situations that make me, at best, miserable and at worst, numb.
And that’s just pathetic.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into this.
References and Further Reading
James Frey’s fiction Factory
Oprah’s Questions for James
The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake at Night