Lie about drugs, and deal with the Big O

We kick off our four years here at Carnegie Mellon with a hearty game of “Two Truths and a Lie.” Usually the first person to go falls prey to saying something like “I play soccer,” and you’re like “commmmeeeee onnnnnn,” and then someone else later will be like “I lived in London,” and everyone will be like “wooooooooo,” forgetting that so do 7 million other people.

Though he’s probably never graced the Cut or sniffed the edifying stench of the Donner dumpsters, perhaps we should still give hot-button author James Frey an honorary CMU degree or something. After all, our favorite orientation fixture of divulged secrets and attempted prevarication has been an inspiration for his “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces. The book is second only to Elie Wiesel’s Night (a book whose validity you might not want to question in public) on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Pretty good for a teal-tinted pack of lies.

When Oprah chose Frey’s book to revive the manifesto of the month club she’s formed for her comfortably upper-middle-class Sag-Harbor-wearin’, Robert-Redford-admirin’ fans everywhere, the crowned Queen of Chicago wasn’t asking for this. Frey’s book, a supposed tale of addiction and redemption, has produced more controversy than those ladies in mock turtlenecks can handle in just one monthly session.

When life-ruining website The Smoking Gun revealed that Frey’s “memoirs” were actually embellished stories better left in the fiction department, his publisher, Doubleday, stood by

Among Frey’s changes: Well, it wasn’t exactly 87 days he spent in jail, more like four... hours. And that bit about being a fugitive in three states? Um, I don’t think Jesse James wore pleated khakis, Mr. Frey.

On Thursday’s show, Oprah refuted her initial support for Frey, telling him she felt “duped” and “betrayed.” Guess that means he didn’t leave with a car.

But Frey’s rude awakening has done nothing to affect his royalties paycheck — the novel continues to rank among the nation’s bestsellers. I doubt the Barnes and Noble in Squirrel Hill has seen any change in the number of paperback copies occupying its top-selling shelves in the weeks surrounding the crusade against A Million Little Pieces.

This whole situation is reminiscent of a time not so long ago when Oprah tried to rescue an author from the depths of obscurity with her literal stamp of approval. That author, The Corrections’ Jonathan Franzen, declined her offer to be included in her book club. Not wanting his readers to be merely mimicking a TV talk show host’s tastes in reading his book, Franzen actually helped see his audience expand. Now he had two audiences: those who wanted to read his book because Oprah liked it, and those who wanted to read it because Franzen didn’t like the O. Where is the love?
Whether he remains on Oprah’s contact list or not, Frey is still making millions by touting a book he originally pitched to his publisher Nan Talese as a work of fiction. Some may argue that he has successfully blurred the line between fiction and non-fiction, but all this euphemism means is either he’s lived a pretty boring life or he’s a cliché-whore of a writer using immoral tactics to share his story. Judging from his reaction to the allegations, it’s probably a little of both.

So Frey doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the truth-based world of literature and reporting. Don’t worry, James; people change careers all the time, and I’m sure the Bush administration would love to have you.

If I were Frey, though, I wouldn’t worry about sealing my next book deal or re-establishing my credibility in the publishing world. I’d work on settling things with the Big Woman Up Top first. I mean, it’s pretty bad when Oprah’s pissed at you.

Erich Schwartzel | Staffwriter