gall and gumption

Friday, February 03, 2006

Inside A Million Little Pieces

Eric, my friend in Sebastopol, reads what I write here. He sent me this comment on my Frey/Oprah post.

The Smoking Gun looked into the jail record and other things that could be fact-checked. And the debateafterwards has all centered on the relationship with Oprah and the decisions of Talese and the categories of memoir etc. Not a lot is being written about what is true in the book.

I have a teenage son who felt it was the greatest thing he'd ever read. So I read it and was dutifully gripped by the present-tense fervor of the thing..and at the same time noticed dozens of suspicious signposts that a barely-emerged adolescent male would skim over. I ended up saying that I thought it would have been better if he had just called it a novel. (Of course that wasn't quite true. A novel staggering with such improbabilities would have fallen over too)

But what seems left out of the articles I 've read are thethings one assumes he is telling the truth about in the book.

He lets drop that he made it straight through four years at a Good college. Despite the tales of drug & alcohol oblivion from the age of 12...? His parents were very, very wealthy. They sent him off to Paris after school. Why didn't this alone set off bells? This was a kid of immense privilege... not a gutter-dwelling ravaged teenager. Then there is the point where he admits his only love affair in college fell apart because he was impotent.

Why didn't anyone say: hmmm. A rich boy from a good school gets hooked on something & his parents pay for the finest treatment program in the country. He has a great need to fantasize potency. He writes a memoir in which he is the hero in impossible situations of physical pain and threat. He comes through valiantly time after time. He is dubbed a knight by a Mafioso chieftain who adopts him as a son. He wins the admiration of the toughest inmates. He is disdainful of the God-centered treatment program and will "do it on his own", something 'no one has ever done'. He singlehandedly rescues his wraith of a girlfriend from blowing some guy in a crack den that must be the most lurid & dangerous place on earth.

I looked at the first chapter of the second book... it starts with him in jail. He's immediately jumped by the baddest biggest black guy who then spares him, & tells him the cops paid him to attack Frey. That's how bad he is, the cops pay to have him beat up in jail! Then this guy Tenderloin Jones sees him with a book and has him read to him, War & Peace I think it is...for months! oh lord. That's when I knew how far he had gone in making it all up. I knew the dental work without painkiller was a lie. I knew the Mafia chief was a lie. But that jail scene. Whew.

The funny thing is that Eric had his own jailtime reading experience, with -- I ask you -- a black guy who put him onto good books. I love it that this guy recommended the Snopes trilogy.

When I was in jail, in 1968...(and I don't want to say that my experience disproves or proves anything...but it leaps up at me in contrast with the lie in Frey's story)....I was trying to find books in the prison library, and not having much luck. An older black man approached me one day, said "I see you like to read....have you ever read Faulkner?" I said 'only Absolom'....he said, 'not the Snopes trilogy?' I said no..that I'd felt a little uneasy about his writing about Mississippi, had read some radical critiques . The guy said I was misinformed. "Faulkner is the greatest. You have to read him. HAVE to. Forget all that crap from the Movement people about Faulkner. He knows the South man, knows it, and the writing is just beautiful." He gave me the book and it set me along a kind of life in jail of reading voraciously and trading and loaning books all over. Hesse came my way from a young hippie, an old junkie pushed "Dune" on was one of the ways my time became tolerable. But ...when I imagine a Tenderloin Jones asking me to read to him in full view of the rest of the jail, every day? Hnnnh.

A last word. My son's enjoyment...there is a great need to have extreme experience at his age, in a little shire protected from the carnage of the Times. He loved Fight Club too. And that first person, present tense writing can really suck you in, it's a fast read as they say. So, aside from the appeal to people who love to read of degradation & recovery, there is also this market of wannabe guys, just aching to prove their own fledgling potency. Nothing new really. But, I think I should recommend Faulkner.

Update: Cleaned up the text to remove the annoying line breaks.


At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Joel said...

I loved Gene Weingarten's take on the scandal in Sunday's Washington Post:

I always wanted to be a bad-boy author. I would write a memoir so disgusting, confessing to depravities so sordid and crimes so heinous that literary critics would lionize me for my "searing honesty." Oprah would weep at the pain I had suffered and absolve me of the pain I caused. Hot young chicks would dig my vulnerability and flock to me. And I would become very, very rich.

The problem is, I haven't been all that heinous. And even if I put as much bad-boy spin as possible on my actual transgressions, it just wouldn't really do the trick:

It was gray outside, gray and mottled, like the pigeon-flecked tombstone that passes for my soul. He stood before me, old, hunched over, vulnerable. I knew what I was going to do, and it wasn't good. And it wasn't moral. And it wasn't legal. And it wasn't nice. "Nice" is not in my vocabulary. "Morality" is not my bag. I didn't even have a bag. So when he finished pooping, I just tugged on his leash and walked on, flagrantly violating municipal Ordinance 23-107b (1978) pertaining to pet waste retrieval and disposal.

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