As part of her farewell to her show audience, Oprah Winfrey sat down and chatted on Monday with James Frey, the controversial author (memoirist? Fiction writer?) whose book A Million Little Pieces earned him a place on Oprah's Most Hated List one blistering day in 2006 when she tore him a new one for all his lies.
The book was billed as a memoir and touted by Oprah but was almost entirely fiction. Oprah defended him for days until the truth came out, and she felt lied to and manipulated. And so she went off on him during an infamous interview he referred to as his "public stoning." Indeed. And he deserved it.
And yet, five years later, here he is, part of Oprah's farewell. While Oprah's desire to be forgiving and magnanimous -- to be the bigger person -- is admirable, Frey's attitude on show proved, once again, that he just doesn't deserve it.
As a writer, I wanted desperately to side with Frey. I have been attacked on a much smaller scale and it's awful. Writers put themselves out there, lay themselves bare, and open themselves to wretched criticism from people who don't get it. So I'm usually on the side of most writers.
But not Frey.
Frey's biggest issue seems to be this notion that all he did was embellish the truth and, although he took responsibility for his actions, telling Oprah he deserved her "ambush," he also said:
I don't have a lot of respect for memoir. I think most writers of memoirs do what I do, you play around with things, you tell the best story you can.
He said he shopped the book as a novel first and then sold it as a memoir, and then it took off. Despite his public scorning, Frey's career has continued. His subsequent books have done well. He has even collaborated on a successful young adult series some call a ripoff of Twilight.
Maybe his success has made him arrogant. Maybe he really is just an artist as he called himself, who takes impressions of the truth. But either way, one might hope to see a bit more remorse.
He is playing it great for his career. I buy him as the tortured artist who does what he wants and listens to his own voice. But I would never buy any of his books. Even if he is a good writer (and I have heard he is), this isn't a man with respect for other writers or for his readers and how they perceive his work.
Knowing that, it's impossible to be as forgiving of him as Oprah has been. Part two of her interview airs Tuesday and it will be interesting to see how he plays that.
What do you think of Frey?
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