I Read an Oprah Book: A Million Little Pieces

I'm in a book club that grew out of daily lunches with other teachers. There are about ten of us, and our first book is James Frey's A Million Little Pieces.

I finished it last night, and I was writing a review of it, right here at this computer, and the lights blinked and I lost it all. I was really feeling that review, too, so anything I write here is going to feel like a red-headed stepchild, so I'm not going to try very hard. I hope you understand.

The thing about this book is this: I wouldn't say it's good, and I wouldn't say I liked it, but it was engaging and I read it in a few hours. Still, I probably won't read it again, at least not for a very long time.

That's a pretty weird paradox, because I love to reread books; I have read some books literally twenty or more times.

I think it's the subject of A Million Little Pieces that puts me off: addiction, and overcoming addiction.

I kind of feel like that makes me sound judgmental or hardhearted, but I don't mean to. It's very difficult to speak of this subject with any authority when I don't smoke or drink or do drugs. And I don't know what it feels like to NEED those things, to feel like I could die without them even though I know they are killing me.

I'm not complaining; I'm just trying to explain why I don't feel ... maybe ... as connected (?) to the book, or to the topic, as others might be.

That being said, I could hardly put it down.

This is a memoir, which I didn't know until I read the Amazon.com comments as I was ordering the book. Whee, I thought, I LIKE memoirs! But most of the memoirs I've read are from like, movie stars of the Forties, so this one was ... different. Waaaay different.

James Frey uses a lot of stream-of-consiousness to express his thoughts, so that could be difficult for some to read, though I tend to think and write like that myself, so I had NO problem. He also doesn't use a traditional paragraph format, or much punctuation, and that was kind of distracting to me at first, because I AM an English teacher, people, come on! Soon, though, I forgot about his technique and became absorbed in his message.

If you've seen fictionalized accounts of rehab on television or in movies, they will pale in comparison to the stories in this book. Actually, Frey describes a hospital show that portrays a beautiful heroin addict who kicks the habit within a few days and winds up living happily with a doctor. (I suspect the show is ER, but I couldn't say with any certainty). His rage at this portrayal is pretty evident, and he talks about how he would like to show the producers and writers of the show what happens to actual heroin users.

So the story opens with James Frey, at 23, waking up on a plane with a hole in his cheek and blood all over him. He has no idea how he got there, or where he's going, or what happened to him. He is going to a rehab clinic in Minnesota, and he doesn't want to. (That is the literary element: understatement).

Frey does not work to paint a pretty picture; his images are pretty graphic, and there's not much left to the imagination. It's not sexual, but be ready for lots of talk about puking and bleeding.

You can almost feel his anger, hurt, betrayal, self-hatred, and pain. Seriously, it's almost tangible. He talks about something he calls the Fury, which drives him and destroys him. It's his most basic need, and it's screaming to be fulfilled with booze and crack. It manifests itself in violent rages, and James gets into it with almost everybody he meets.

The secondary characters are the ones that I, frankly, like best. I like Leonard, James' father-figure who says he's in finance (if "finance" was another word for "the Mafia), and Miles, an alcoholic judge who wants to clean up so he can keep his family together, and Lilly. Oh, Lilly.

Hers is the most tragic story of all of them, and that is saying a lot. In the Clinic, men and women are not allowed to talk to each other, but Lilly and James meet and talk and eventually fall in love.

James refuses to follow AA, and he refuses to acknowledge a Higher Power. But really, Lilly IS his Higher Power. When James has the opportunity to forget all his rehab and therapy and memories, it's Lilly that keeps him from going back. His love for Lilly, I think, motivated him to succeed.

This is not a happy book. It hurt, sometimes, to read it. I was literally clenching my fists and biting my lip and curling my toes at some points. There's plenty of mental tension to be had, as well, so I wouldn't read this if you're looking for a feel-good throwaway holiday read.

It was hard to read, REALLY hard to read, but not because of the language. For me, it was hard to read because, most times, I prefer to think that most people are pretty much like me: they try hard and they mess up sometimes but, overall, they're pretty decent and they love God and they're nice. Well, my eyes, they were opened, opened WIDE. In shock, even.

I don't regret reading it; I'd even recommend it to others. I think it would work GREAT as a Scared-Straight tactic, because I for one will NEVER do drugs or even drink again, that's how much I don't want to end up like James Frey. And maybe that was his goal all along.

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