James Frey has written another book about James Frey. Should you read it?
“Jay, the character in the novel, is really just a Harvey Weinstein in waiting”
It's been a big month for American author James Frey.
Last week, the film adaptation of his book, A Million Little Pieces, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. And the next day, his latest novel, Katerina, was released.
Frey became famous, or infamous, for A Million Little Pieces, which was first published in 2003 and became a huge success, helped in part by being listed as part of Oprah's Book Club.
A Million Little Pieces was first published as a memoir, but in 2005, amid much controversy, it was revealed that parts of the book were not true, and so the book was later published as a semi-biographical novel.
"Millions of readers, Oprah Winfrey among them, felt defrauded by this. So there was a huge scandal. And what was quite interesting is that James Frey sort of was, and remains to this day, fairly unapologetic about this," said Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne.
Despite that controversy, Frey has remained popular and his new novel, Katerina, is one of the most anticipated novels of the season.
Is James Frey making a comeback? Jay, the hero of his first adult novel in a decade, sure isn't. <a href="https://t.co/wtgPN0I9NF">https://t.co/wtgPN0I9NF</a>—@nytimesbooks
Ron Charles from The Washington Post writes that "James Frey has written a memoir disguised as a novel about his first novel that was disguised as a memoir."
Toyne refers to Katerina as an "air quotes novel," because although it's being presented as a novel, we know it's partly a memoir because Frey has acknowledged that it's about him.
"Essentially, it is kind of a love story," said Toyne.
"It takes place in two time frames — Los Angeles in the present day, when we are with a middle-aged writer who's been hugely successful but he kind of is sick of his life and miserable."
But then Jay, the main character, receives a Facebook message "that is a blast from the past and takes him back to a time he spent living in Paris in 1992 as a 21-year-old young man with ideals of becoming a writer — also an alcoholic and drug addict," said Toyne.
"There is a lot of sex in this book, but really there's just one sex scene in this book that is in the book about 27 times. So it's really repetitive."
Katerina by James Frey review – a glorification of masculine privilege <a href="https://t.co/uhOadJ6cXK">https://t.co/uhOadJ6cXK</a>—@GuardianBooks
Like Frey, Jay moves to Paris after reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.
"He kind of goes to Paris to sort of live this life of just drinking and going where Hemingway drank and reading all of the French authors … and meeting girls," explained Toyne.
"And he just has tonnes and tonnes of sex."
But Toyne notes that the women in the book are not well-developed characters and they're "not even two dimensional. They're just … faceless, kind of nothing women" who were "banging out orgasms five seconds after meeting him in a bathroom."
"It was just, it felt to me just so ... out of touch with the moment, really. I mean, Jay, the character in the novel, is really just a Harvey Weinstein in waiting," said Toyne, referring to the #MeToo era.
"A really important role that the novel plays in society [is] about making us see things from another person's perspective, stand in another person's shoes. And other novels that have come out this year, like The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer and Women Talking by Miriam Toews really are part of that moment."
Toyne also notes that Frey's personal struggles with addiction are evident in the writing.
"The protagonist does have huge problems and you really feel like they're written so dark and dirty and in a way that you can just feel that the author has been through all of that."
"I know that a lot of people have found it very helpful as a book about dealing with addiction and coming through addiction. I think that that aspect of Katerina is very good."
Should you read it?
For Katerina, Toyne says no, she doesn't recommend that you read it.
"But I bet lots of people disagree with me and I that it does really well anyway."
If you would like to read Katerina by James Frey, you can enter to win a copy of the book by clicking on the contact link and telling us the name of the city where the character Jay lives in 1992.
I thought we’d all agreed to stop writing novels like this... <a href="https://t.co/AQHaN5NMjr">pic.twitter.com/AQHaN5NMjr</a>—@j_amesmarriott