There once was a shiny new writer on the scene whose novel was the talk of the town. He even made it on to Oprah’s coveted and massively influential Book Club list. Everyone was reading A Million Little Pieces.
Then the word spread like wild-fire that what James Frey had labeled a “memoir” was nothing more than fiction. For whatever reason, a ceremonious flogging took place in the public square and Queen Oprah took poor Jimmy to the woodshed.
“How could you?” The critical elite asked, vomiting up their self-righteous betrayal phlegm. “How could you present your sordid tale of drug abuse, dental torture, sexual perversion, and rehabilitation as truth when it was not?”
My take was always, “so what.” A good read is a good read.
Frey followed it up with an excellent novel, Bright Shiny Morning, about a variety of colorful characters scuffling around Los Angeles. In between the chapters of clear fiction, he inserted factoid chapters. His way of saying “This is fiction…and this is fact. Ok?”
Here is an amusing excerpt from Frey’s factual accounting of the L.A. freeway system:
‘Despite the fact that many of the highways, freeways, parkways, and expressways of Los Angeles have strange and wonderful names, no one uses them. Every state, interstate, and federal road in the country has a numerical destination, the lowest of them is 1, the highest is 710. When discussing roads, the citizens of Los Angeles almost always use the numbers, immediately preceded by the word the. As in the 138, the 71, and the 14. The 126, the 18, the intersection of the 10, the 57, the 71 and the 210. The 1, the 90. The 118, the 261, and the 47/103.
The 10 has humble beginnings, two lanes angling left and moving quickly upwards from the PCH at the base of the Santa Monica Pier. It looks like the entrance to a parking garage or the route for people who aren’t wealthy or attractive enough to go to the beach. It rolls through an underpass and spreads into eight lanes, four on each side, with thirty-foot concrete walls on both sides. Everything is hard and gray, there are chunks of concrete missing and scrape marks on the walls, it looks, and is, extremely unforgiving. It continues straight east and continues spreading and within a mile it becomes twelve lanes, within another mile it becomes sixteen. Along most of the west side of Los Angeles, the 10 is either elevated or lined with sound-reducing walls. Traffic is thick and often clogged all day every day, it is only clear late at night and early in the morning. Without traffic, it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to get from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles. With traffic, it can take two hours. As it moves east, and into neighborhoods that are not as economically healthy as those farther west, the 10 levels out and the walls disappear. When it hits downtown, it intersects with the 110, which runs from Long Beach to Pasadena, and just east of downtown, and it intersects with Interstate 5, which runs from Mexico to Canada. From there it continues east into San Bernardino County and the desert. Just outside of Palm Springs, it becomes the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway.”