The dustup about James Frey's largely made-up "memoir" A Million Little Pieces is in fact getting a lot of attention. Two NY Times articles just today. In one of them (Writer Says He Made Up Some Details), Oprah Winfrey makes a couple of statements to support Mr. Frey's book. She says "to me it seems to be much ado about nothing," and "What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil" which I don't think is a proper response. She's basically saying that because the very broad arc of his life is there, the book is fine even though it's mostly fiction. If he wanted to write a fictional book based on his life, he should have done that. If he wanted to put his fantastical inner life on display he needed to do it as a novelist, not a memoirist.

The other Times article (Doubts About Memoir Stir a Debate About Fact and Fiction) talks about the debate I'd hoped this incident would lead to, whether memoir and non-fiction should be fictionalized. I agree with the side that says memoir should not contain fiction. Just because an autobiography is based on the writer's recollection doesn't mean that they have full license to make up the whole story. If someone misremembers or can't recall exact conversations, that's fine. But to go out of your way to invent whole relevant sections of the story is just wrong. It's not that James Frey misremembered being in jail and befriending another inmate who was paid by a cop to beat him up, he invented the entire thing. And the worst thing is, he invented it badly. It's a lame story. I haven't read the book but just the idea of it should have set off alarm bells. The guy gets beat up by another inmate (who was paid to do so by a cop he had insulted), then befriends the guy and spends his sentence reading the classics of literature to his illiterate new bestest buddy. Come on. Give me a break.

It doesn't seem like this will end Frey's writing career or anything, which is good. He messed up, got caught, now we need to move on. The real test will be if his next "memoir" is published in the fiction or non-fiction section. That's the true test and it's really a test of his publisher's honesty more than anything else.

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