How James Frey flunked rehab, and why his fakery matters

Seth Mnookin in Slate:

060112_hb_jamesfreytnBased on all the evidence, it seems Frey’s weird, macho fear of seeing himself as a “victim” led him to fabricate a life that was painful and extreme enough so as to explain the sadness and despair he felt. Instead of a crack-binging street fighter, ostracized by both his peers and society, the Smoking Gun investigation indicates Frey was more likely a lonely, confused boy who may or may not have needed ear surgery as a child and felt distant from his parents and alienated from his peers. He drank too much, did some drugs, got nailed for a couple of DUIs and ended up, at age 23, in one of the country’s most prestigious drug-and-alcohol treatment centers. When Frey writes that, after one of his fictitious arrests, he hated himself, saw no future, and wanted to die, I believe him. I grew up in a well-off suburban household with loving parents and no clear traumas in my past. I was popular enough in high school, I joined the newspaper and acted in plays, and I got into a good college. I was also miserably, sometimes almost suicidally, depressed, and, from the age of 15, I was taking drugs and drinking almost every day. Frey must have felt that his real, very scary, and very lonely feelings would have seemed weak if it was only preceded by standard-issue suburban teenage angst.

More here.  And Slate also has “Lying writers and the readers who love them” by Meghan O’Rourke:

It’s been quite a week for literary scandals. First, The Smoking Gun made a persuasive case that Oprah-anointed author James Frey had fabricated crucial swathes of his best-selling addiction-and-recovery memoir A Million Little Pieces. Second, the New York Times offered its own strong case that the cult novelist JT LeRoy—a former child prostitute and recovered heroin addict, whose raw and “honest” writing had made him a celebrity darling—was merely a persona invented by writer Laura Albert and “played” in public by a friend. You might conclude from all the media hoopla that these hoaxes have upended our long-held ideas about truth and literary merit. But are we really all that surprised?

Long before his book was exposed as fraudulent, the James Frey phenomenon was itself Display A of what has become a deep-seated conviction of our therapeutic culture: Not only is the line between what is factually true and what is purveyed as “authentic” blurry indeed, but the inspirational power of a work of imagination or memory is the most relevant currency by which to judge its value.

More here.  And see this previous post about Frey with many comments from 3QD readers.