Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Unbelievable Comeback

Here's a mind-boggling quote from a New York Observer article straight from the lips of James Frey:

"I’m in conflict with what writing is, in conflict with what literature is, in conflict with what people’s acceptable standards are. In conflict with the idea of what fiction and non-fiction is, or are. There are things that will play themselves out. I'm not done with twisting the lines of fact or fiction. I'm not finished with that issue by any stretch of the imagination. There isn't a great deal of difference between fact and fiction, it's just how you choose to tell a story."

In conflict?  Give me a break.  

Dude has figured out how to turn being a liar into being a cultural phenomenon.  And our trash culture is going right along with him, making his books best sellers. Please, people, let's get it straight. There's genuine creative nonfiction which emphasizes the metaphorical truth over the literal truth by exaggerating and re-crafting slightly, and then there's outright stupid lying.  It may be difficult to tell the difference, but let's start trying. It can be done.  We can all start right now by aiming to be a bit more discerning. 

Allow me to demonstrate:

Sedaris might write something like, "My mother died of lung cancer with a cigarette in her mouth."  The cigarette dangling from dead Mommy's lips on her death bed may not be literally true, but there is a metaphor here in the statement suggesting the man's mother continued smoking to the end.  Sedaris' writing has many examples of literary exaggeration, serving some literary or humorous truth central to the point of his work.  Thus we know if Sedaris writes that his mother died of lung cancer, you can pretty much be sure that Mrs. Sedaris' death certificate will corroborate.

Frey might write something like, "Mom used to work for Philip Morris.  She was a narc when company execs covered up how cigarettes killed you.  She made a lot of enemies that way."  If Frey's mother never worked for Philip Morris, or never acted as a narc, we have ourselves a whole different ball of wax: what I like to call a big fat lie being passed off as a literary memoir, which serves no purpose other than to plump up the plot, create false intrigue, and rely on lies to cover weak writing.  A very different, very undignified enterprise. 

So, what's say, folks, shall we start a revolution here and now?  Stop buying Frey's books.


Anonymous said...

Yes indeedy! Although you may have over-punctuated your Frey parody...

Anonymous said...

Frey doesn't bother me in the slightest. The guy has found a way to create buzz and sell books...I dig that. While the rest of us write little shorts to send off to Hobart or w.e, he's selling books.

Praise other writers. Praise them.

Anonymous said...

Praise real writers. Yes. This guys ridiculous. And he only adds to the crap expectation that everyone has some crap gimmick that will appeal to the American book-reading public (acting lately like TV-watching, more than book-reading), which makes Americans continue to hone their desire for crap. It's hopeless.

Anonymous said...

It must be nice to call anything you don't agree with CRAP.

How liberal and writerly of you.

Writer, Rejected said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Writer, Rejected said...

Actually, I don't think Anon above is calling just anything s/he disagrees with crap, but specifically s/he's calling James Frey's enterprises crap. I think that's kosher. Just calling it like you see it.

Frey's enterprises are after all based on lies and will continue to be based on lies according to his snappy quote in the post.

And anyway what's so unliberal and unwriterly about crap?

billyjoejimbob said...

Must be nice to call crap on someone who's calling crap on someone else, anon. I should know: I'm doing it right now.

Anonymous said...

It's getting a little scatological around here!

Minnie Mouse said...

"There isn't a great deal of difference between fact and fiction, it's just how you choose to tell a story."

My, what a slithery creature Frey is. If I wrote a book wherein I claimed to have been born on Venus, then that is FICTION. If I try to pass it off as memoir, then I am lying.

A lie is a lie is a lie, no matter how Frey wants us to parse it.