Frey's memoir shot to pieces
A best-selling non-fiction book that tells a personal tale of substance abuse and redemption has come under fire as untrue.
James Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces was the No. 2 bestseller in the U.S. in 2005.
It was propelled to best-seller lists after talk show host Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club, with Winfrey saying it was a book she "couldn't put down ... a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it's so real..."
Now a lengthy article on the Smoking Gun website alleges that Frey's book was "wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw wanted in three states."
After six weeks of investigating police records and interviewing people who knew Frey, the website article, which does not have a byline, concludes Frey has "fictionalized his past to propel and sweeten the book's already melodramatic narrative."
Frey has threatened to sue the Smoking Gun over the allegations. On his website, Frey dismissed the story as "the latest investigation into my past, and the latest attempt to discredit me."
Frey has frequently been closely questioned about the memoir in his tour of the talk-show circuit, but asserted that the book is true.
Assault on an officer or DUI?
The book chronicles Frey's career as a raging, destructive, drug-taking teen and young adult who pulls his life around in a rehab program. The descriptions are sometimes graphic and the language raw.
The Smoking Gun article questions Frey's purported 14 convictions and in particular, his description of a three-month stint in jail that followed a drunken, drug-induced fight in an Ohio bar during which he struck a police officer.
The investigation was unable to verify Frey's long rap sheet, though it admits the author claims he asked for some of his convictions to be expunged. The only public record of the Ohio incident was of a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol that resulted in a few hours in custody, according to the website.
Frey's role in a tragic accident that killed a high school student also came under question.
A Million Little Pieces describes Frey pretending to have a date with the girl so she could go out with a boy her parents disapproved of. The characters in the anecdote are given pseudonyms. Frey claims he was blamed for the accident after the girl was killed.
But the Smoking Gun interviewed the parents of the girl involved, who recalled no connection to Frey.
In light of these inconsistencies, and an interview with Frey in which he admits to vamping up some incidents for "dramatic effect," the Smoking Gun questions how much of the book can be credited as true.
Did he dupe Oprah?
It dubs Frey "The man who duped Oprah" and says millions of other readers have been conned. The book has sold 3.5 million copies.
On Monday, publisher Doubleday issued a statement saying, "We stand in support of our author, James Frey, and his book, which has touched the lives of millions of readers."
Frey recently signed a two-book deal with Riverhead Books and his second book, My Friend Leonard, is on the best-seller list.
The New York Times comments that the scandal raises issues about the publishing industry's choice of memoirs as a fast-track to the best-seller list.
Other memoirs have been questioned in recent years, including Fragments of a Childhood 1939-1948, a Holocaust memoir by Binjamin Wilkomirski, and Tony Hendra's Father Joe, about the author's troubled past and the priest who helped him recover.
Publishers have acknowledged they don't fact check memoirs, relying instead on the author.
In 1996, an article in Saturday Night magazine questioned the truth of Farley Mowat's non-fiction books, People of the Deer, The Desperate People and Never Cry Wolf.