Three Older Women Stand in Line to Yell at the Author James Frey when Malcolm-Jamal Warner Stops By with a Two-Liter of Cherry Coke Under
By Greg Boose
June 14, 2010
Helen: I’m really going to let him have it.
Susan: Oh, Helen, you’re too much.
Helen: He deserves it for what he did.
Rita: Well, don’t just get up there and immediately blow up at the jerk. You have to take him by surprise by being nice and sweet, and then you can let him have it.
Helen: He just makes me so mad!
Susan: He’s a liar.
Helen: Absolutely. I told you ladies about my brother, right?
Susan: You sure did.
Rita: I didn’t hear this.
Helen: Well, I hate to say this but my brother, Roger, is an alcoholic.
Rita: Oh, dear. I didn’t know that. I’m sorry.
Helen: It’s okay, not a lot of people know. Roger’s an alcoholic but he was trying to get better – he’s been trying for years – and so I went out and bought him James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” a few Christmases agothat everyone was talking about at the time.
Susan: And he started reading it that night, right Helen?
Helen: He sure did, Susan, and by the next morning he was crying. I found him just like that – crying at the kitchen table with his face buried in the pages. I walked in and he looked at me and told me he was sorry for everything – for stealing from my purse, for stealing my watch –
Rita: Oh my! Your watch, even?
Susan: All for drugs, right Helen?
Helen: Right – for drugs, which I didn’t know he was also doing at the time. So he cries and cries, and tells me about all these things he’s done and they’re all just so awful I don’t even want to tell you.
Rita: That’s awful.
Helen: It sure was. It was the most trying time in my life, I’ll tell you what. But then Roger read this Frey guy’s book and it really hit him hard. He sobered up, got a job at the mall as a security guard and everything. I even started to let my boys go over there and help him repaint his house, and Roger, my sweet little brother, he even started calling me a few times a week just to catch up.
Rita: That’s great!
Susan: Just hold on, Rita. Hold on.
Helen: But then everything comes out how it’s all, the book, you know, a bunch of lies.
Susan: A million pieces of lies!
Helen: That’s right! A million little pieces of lies!
Rita: A million pieces of lies!
Helen: So I get a phone call from Roger. October fourth. I remember that day. He’s screaming about how he was on the Internet and saw that James Frey lied about all those things in his book. Things that Roger really related to. Things that taught him a lesson. He’s crying and saying everything felt different and fake now.
Helen: Well, then, I mean. He stopped calling me and won’t return any of mine. My poor boys, bless their hearts, say he won’t even come outside to help them paint. We all think he’s, you know, drinking and doing drugs again.
Helen: All because that son of a bitch lied.
Helen: Well, I’m sorry but that’s what he is.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner: Excuse me.
MJW: Hi, I couldn’t help but hear you guys talking about –
Susan: Hey! Aren’t you…Aren’t you a Cosby kid?
MJW: Yeah, that’s me. I was on that show. My name’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
MJW: Yeah. That’s right, Theo. I’m sorry to bother you.
Susan: It’s no bother at all, Theo!
MJW: Right. I was just waiting for my friend right over there and couldn’t help but overhear your story. That’s really sad about your brother and I’m sorry to hear that. Oh, would you like some of my Cherry Coke?
Rita: Do you have cups?
MJW: Right here in my pocket. Nope. Oh, here they are.
Susan: Oh my. Well thank you, Theo.
Rita: Thank you very much.
MJW: And how about you? Would you care for some Cherry Coke?
Helen: No thank you.
Susan: I just loved you as Theo. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to say that.
MJW: It’s okay – it was a great character to play.
Rita: I don’t know it. What show was it?
Susan: The Cosby Show, Rita! Bill Cosby’s show.
Rita: I’m sorry – we didn’t have television. My husband wouldn’t allow it.
MJW: Oh, it’s okay. It was just a television show from a long time ago. But the reason I came over is to say that I also read “A Million Little Pieces,” and that I myself have family members who are alcoholics and using drugs.
Helen: And aren’t you just furious when you found out it was all a bunch of lies?
Susan: A million pieces of lies!
Rita: A million pieces of lies!
Susan: We’re furious. Just like Oprah was.
Rita: Yes – we’re as mad as Oprah was when she had him back on the show. Aren’t you mad?
MJW: Well, I don’t know. I was a little hurt when I originally heard because I found the book’s details to be so moving and inspirational. Between the four of us, I cried a couple of times.
Rita: Me, too.
Susan: I won’t tell a soul, Theo.
MJW: I was angry, you know what I’m saying, that I got so emotional over a book that I believed to be pure fact; a memoir. But I’ve talked it over with a few people – including an older cousin of mine who’s an alcoholic and has read his book – and we both decided that it’s okay. Now I’m not saying it’s okay for him to say it was all true, but more that it’s okay for those passages and stories to be out there for people to believe them as truth. Let people believe that these things really happened, and let them take away from it what they will. Some of the best fiction can teach some of life’s most serious lessons.
Helen: But they marketed it as nonfiction. It says right on there that it’s a memoir. He’s a liar. The publishers are liars, too.
Susan: That’s right, Helen!
MJW: You’ve got to stop looking at it that way. Mr. Frey didn’t do you any personal harm by embellishing the truth or with his lies, as you call them, but rather he seemed to have helped quite a few people who read his book and saw the dark side of a dark disease. Your brother relapsing is not Frey’s fault; it’s your brother’s fault. He has a disease. A book doesn’t change that. A work of fiction doesn’t change that. Listen, do you understand how many people still come up to me and say that they learned a life-lesson from my character on that show?
Susan: It was such a great show.
MJW: And that show taught people about things like dyslexia, Shakespeare, jazz, designer shirts, the great Martin Luther King, and the empowerment of women. They learned it all from watching a fake television family with plot holes and a magical doctor’s office somewhere in the basement. I’m sorry, would you care for some more Cherry Coke?
Susan: I’ll take a little more.
Rita: No more for me, thanks.
MJW: There’s my friend coming in over there. Look – I’m sorry to barge into your conversation like that. I have to go.
Susan: It was so nice to meet you.
Rita: Yes, it was.
MJW: You should rent a movie I’m in called “Contradictions of the Heart.” It’s three interconnected stories about the contradictions people live regarding love, sex, friendship and race. Vanessa Williams stars in it.
Rita: Well, he was certainly nice.
Susan: He certainly was.
Rita: Oh, it looks like the line might finally start to move.
Helen: Good. I can’t wait to let him have it. I’m really going to tear that James Frey a new one.
Susan: But what about what Mr. Theo-Jamal Warner just said?
Helen: Now, Susan. You know I don’t trust black people.
Movie stars are so inspirational, and they so often bring the Cherry Coke.
I’m officially resentful at how adept you are with dialogue.
This is TRUE, Greg?
You HEARD this?
No, no, no. Absolutely made up. Absolutely fiction. Nonfiction is the only place that has a “Humor” subheading, so I’ve been told to post these here.
My plan is to post a new illustrated humor post every Monday until I run out.
Greg, you SCALAWAG!
You need a disclaimer here!
Greg, this isn’t true? But this totally changed my life!! I just bought the entire Cosby Show Boxed Set!!!
Holy crap! It was a LIE! He said it was non-fiction but it’s fiction!! I’m outraged. I’m gonna give that Boose guy a piece of my mind.
The irony, right?
Possibly. Or perhaps it’s just a bummer. 😉
(This was funny btw.)
What a great title.
remember the old days
of TNB when
all the titles were that way?
I remember reading Frey’s book
“Good writing, can’t be all true.”
Not because I am so incredibly
insightful but rather because I was
working at a rehab just like the
one he describes.
I don’t recall being outraged
seems I had the notion that most
non-fiction was embellished anyway.
Boy, he changed the business though huh?
“just because it didn’t happen
doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
Might have been a Huxtable.
Or maybe Robert Downey Jr’s character in Tropic Thunder?.
“Just ’cause it’s a theme song don’t make make it not true!”
That performance was amazing. The movie was funny but Downey Jr. was ridiculous in that. Wow.
“What you mean, ‘you people’?”
That was a movie that made me laugh, Slade!
This is funny stuff, Greg. I never know how to feel about Frey. I agree with MJW that Frey didn’t personally hurt any of us and plenty of people took many good things from reading his book. Then again, everyone knew the Cosby show was fiction. The people who were inspired by Frey’s work, were they less inspired when they realized he’d lied about some of what he had written?
I mean, addicts and generally self-destructive people tend to lie quite a bit. So is Frey making it okay for recovering addicts to continue to lie? Is the net effect positive?
In the end you just take from it what you want, right? The whole thing was overblown, in my estimation. But from a philosophical perspective I can’t quite think it’s okay for him to mislead his readers. If fiction works just as well, why not write a novel with the same themes and details? We know why–the memoir crowd loves memoirs because they conceivably really happened. As a novel it might be just another made-up story.
All that said, I’ve written some pieces like yours, dialogue-only humorous scenes that are a blend of fact and fiction. Maybe I’ll post mine under “Humor” and contribute to the confusion. Hahaha.
You know, I only got 3/4 of the way through “A Million Little Pieces” and that was years after he was “exposed.” To be honest I felt sorry for Frey. I read about how he tried to sell it as fiction based on non-fiction events and how his publisher went on to push for it to be a memoir. And people ate it up as such. I blame him some, but not for the whole thing. Live and learn.
I would hold off on posting these types of pieces for now. I’ve been told to submit them to the Fiction people from here on out.
I didn’t know about him trying to sell it as fiction. That makes a pretty big difference in how one views Frey.
The last line of your comment is so unbelievably perfect that it essentially captures the theme of the entire post.
I read this Vanity Fair piece a while back (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2008/06/frey200806?currentPage=1)
This is from page two:
“After just about a year, Frey had 525 pages and felt he was ready to shop it around to literary agents.
He landed a hot one, Kassie Evashevski, then at Brillstein-Grey, who worked with both books and films. As he tells it today, Frey, continuing to follow in the footsteps of his literary heroes, sought to publish it as fiction. “I sent the book to Kassie as a novel,” says Frey. “I was pretty clear. It’s a novel. I didn’t tell her it was a memoir. I told her it was a novel. I’m not sure what else I needed to say.” Evashevski would not comment for this article, except to say that all of her views had been expressed in a 2006 Publishers Weekly interview, in which she said Frey had told her it was the true story of his addiction and recovery. She recalled, “James raised the issue of whether he could publish it as an autobiographical novel—only, he said, to spare his family undue embarrassment, not because it wasn’t true.”
According to Frey, Evashevski sent the book out to 18 publishers, and no one wanted it. But when told it was a true story, the industry said, Well, let’s talk. From Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes to Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, to Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors, memoirs had become cash cows for publishing houses, while the sales of novels, especially first novels, had been languishing. According to Evashevski, in discussions with these interested parties, she told them that the book, as she understood it, was actually true. “The response was unanimous,” she recalled. “If the book is true, it should be published as a memoir.” One such interested party was Sean McDonald, a young editor at Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. He showed it to his boss, the highly respected and upright Nan Talese (wife of legendary journalist Gay), who, surprisingly, was deeply impressed by the immediacy of the book and thought it would be invaluable to anyone with an intimate connection to addiction. She was ready to offer this first-time writer $50,000 for the memoir.”
That’s very interesting. Thanks for the link. But still I’m enamored with the idea of this:
“I would hold off on posting these types of pieces for now. I’ve been told to submit them to the Fiction people from here on out.”
I understand the reasoning, of course, but if there is a place where these types of posts belong, it’s not fiction or in non-fiction. So where do they go?
It’s not that the pieces aren’t compelling. It’s that they defy categorization. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We want things to fit into our existing models. Also, on this particular site, there is a vetting process for fiction that doesn’t apply to non-fiction. But when you’re blending the two, particularly in a humorous way, what then?
Lastly, I notice on TNB that fiction posts receive a fraction of the attention that non-fiction posts do. Which makes me think the same post would be received differently depending on the category in which it was published. Does that say something about TNB or human nature in general? The state of the publishing industry?
This is one of the most important topics in publishing. It’s the David Shields conversation. How do literary works fit in the modern media world? How we present them is just as important as the content itself, no?
>>Lastly, I notice on TNB that fiction posts receive a fraction of the attention that non-fiction posts do. Which makes me think the same post would be received differently depending on the category in which it was published. Does that say something about TNB or human nature in general? The state of the publishing industry?<<
My reading habits used to be much more heavily weighted towards fiction, but over the past few years, I find myself reading far more non-fiction (music bios, true crime, metaphysical stuff, etc.). Is it the rubbernecking phenomenon? Is lit more interesting/sexy when the conflict is real?
It’s been explained to me thusly:
“Fiction is your lottery ticket; non-fiction is your meal ticket.”
Hmm, I was outraged that people were so outraged over Frey’s embellishment. It didn’t change my opinion of the book.
I am also outraged at Helen’s last comment but it won’t stop me from reading your further works.
Sorry you were outraged by Helen’s last comment. I would think you would be “not surprised” by what she said due to her running personality throughout.
I wonder how many other NF writers were shaking in their boots, knowing there may have been a bit of embellishment in their own memoirs.
Fiction; nonfiction – who cares? It was still a bloody good book!
Perfect piece to make me laugh with my morning coffee, Greg.
And I agree with JMB – The title made me nostalgic for 2.0!
I love, love, love the longer titles. I wish it were still a rule on TNB.
Glad you enjoyed it!
Oh, Look Greg!
You’re back in the saddle again!
Yes, Zara and Simon complained about the absence of this picture Sunday night. I had no idea it was so loved.
Didn’t you know that you are the Sex God on TNB?
Clueless, aren’t you?
I don’t even know how to respond to this comment. The Sex God on TNB? Me thinks you have been grossly misinformed.
Oh, well. Just tattooed it on my schlong. Gotta own it now.
I love this picture. I am glad it is back.
I’d pay cash money to see a picture of that!
This whole exchange made me giggle. I want some Cherry Coke now.
[…] from The Nervous Breakdown […]
great piece – reading AMLP now – the only reason i doubt any ‘facts’ is that i barely remember any Details from my first days in rehab – not hard details – and i only detoxed for 12 hrs – but – i don’t care – so far the story is great – an awakening…rcg-recovering drunk
It is a great story. But I also remember thinking as I read it, “How the hell can you remember all this while going through rehab and withdrawal?” Thanks for reading, Rachel.
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