A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is an autobiographical piece about Frey’s drug addictions. Alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, crack, glue, gasoline, you name it, he did it and he writes about recovering from it.
The story starts with Frey waking up on a plane with four broken front teeth, a hole in his cheek, eyes swollen, nose broken and no memory of the last two weeks. From there we follow as he proceeds with recovery and slowly details how he came to be where he is.
There is a strange style to the writing which first niggles and then becomes addictive. Repetition and an idiosyncratic style of punctuation serve to illustrate compulsion which eventually works very well.
One of the most memorable scenes is a trip to the dentist which because of Frey’s status as a patient in recovery, means that he has two teeth capped, one cavity fixed and two root canals and a bridge fitted without anesthetic. He describes it a in detail.
The story is set almost entirely in a drug rehabilitation centre and it reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the way that someone eating at a burger joint thinks back to their last meal at a Michelin starred restaurant. Both experiences are of food but whereas one inspires and uplifts, the other satisfies a need.
The book is ok, in fact it’s quite an experience and just writing it must have been an impressive achievement all on its own. The protagonist Frey does things his own way and refuses to follow the AA 12-steps program and maybe because he’s his own narrator the praise he receives for being stubborn and for doing things his own way sounds a little hmm… Oh James, they seem to chuckle, you are so stubborn and yet you have shown us that you can do it so we begrudgingly admire you. You impress us. His responses are usually heartfelt, sincere and intimately thoughtful.
Have you seen that Simpsons’ episode where Homer gets drunk at a dinner party at his own house and pictures himself to be sophisticated and intelligent while a scene later shows him to be foolish and embarrassing. The former part is how Fey writes himself. There is no other version and that’s a shame.
This isn’t literature but the style is fascinating. I liked it and I’m glad I read it.
3.5 / 5