I made a promise to myself last night, after watching James Frey spend his evening hemming and hawing on Larry King Live, to forget about the entire thing. To let it go. To be, as I had implored myself earlier in the year, a bigger man.
But what is a "promise"? Hemingway and Kerouac made "promises" in their life that they subsequently broke. Was I, in fact, just another in a long line of great writers who had made promises and then gone back on my word? Perhaps a promise is not a bond between the person making the promise and the person to whom the promise is made, but rather a suggestion that, in the future, I may get around to doing whatever it was I just "promised" you. In fact, there is a great discussion right now in literary circles about just what, exactly, a promise is, and the boundaries to which one can go to before breaking one's own "promise" if, in fact, one can break a promise at all. Is it not naive to suggest that a promise can be broken? Doesn't that suggest a rigidity of vocabulary, a world of blacks and whites and absolutes? I think that in the future it will be very interesting to see what sort of a definition of "promise" we can agree on, if ever, and how my "broken" "promise" will be viewed by the prism of that newly categorized idea.
But I am breaking my promise; I am completely obsessed with Frey and I'm trying to figure out why. The more I think of him and his book and this controversy, the more interesting it all becomes to me. I had earlier said that Nabokov would have loved a person like Frey; he would have loved eviscerating his false machismo, his bragadaccio, his faux-tough guy persona. And, on top of all that, he probably would have mimicked Frey's writing style, and would have mimicked it better than Frey could have written it. Thus being the genius of Nabokov.
This Slate article hints at the complexity of Frey and the complexity of the situation he finds himself in. It's very good and it brings up a point that I've been trying to wrap my head around and articulate - Frey's weird, macho fear of seeing himself as a "victim" led him to fabricate a life that was painful and extreme enough so as to explain the sadness and despair he felt. So here, then, is a tragic character that I would have enjoyed reading about. Unfortunatley, it's not the tragic character Frey did write about. The book could have been a fantastic memoir if he were either a better writer or possessed the ability to articulate those emotions that he has refused to acknowledge within himself - the feeling of being just another regular rich white kid from the suburbs of America during a period of rapid and overwhelming change. The conquering of the apathy of helplessness and despair of being that kid, which is the kid he actually was, would have been a better book, because he would have been articulating his personal emotions - which, he seems not to understand, are our universal emotions - instead of supplanting his depressed and frustrating childhood with some imagined Life of Crime.
Funny that in a world of sadness, desparation, and helplessness, it is the story about the Life of Crime we are interested in reading and not the more honest, frustratingly real story of how our lives have become mundane and boring. Frey went further than some people would go to break themselves out of that monotony, but he didn't go as far as he said, and that's interesting. Who's he trying to impress? His dad? Does he truly imagine himself as a present day Norman Mailer? Or is he just trying to sell books?
But there's even more to Frey that is interesting. I've known people like Frey and I've lived with people like Frey. They were as equally fascinating to me and for all the same reasons. A rich kid who's father worked too much and who didn't pay enough attention to him. A mother, a kind woman, projects all of her desires and aspirations onto her son (this was so clearly evident on Larry King Live it was actually shocking) and refuses to believe that he is anything other than perfect, though she will concede that he is perhaps misunderstood by others. Where does this dynamic lead? To a young man who does desperate and destructive things to both garner the attention of his father and to repel the unnatural and harmful affections of his mother. In the case of the person I used to live with, that meant excessive drug abuse, violent outbursts, lots of crying, lots of yelling at his mother and a deep, painful need for a constant acknowledgment of his existence by his father.
Now that Frey has written his book and set it loose into the public sphere, there's no going back for him. He really has no option but to hunker down and ride out the storm. Maybe he'll be finished as a writer. Maybe, instead, this controversy will propel him further into the mainstream. "From the controversial author of A Million Little Pieces comes a gripping new story..." I wouldn't be surprised either way, I suppose, but eventually, I do hope that someone will write the story - fictional or not - about the kid Frey really was, and the person that millions of Americans are. Unfortunately, I don't think most people have any interest in being that capital "H" Honest with themselves.
Finally, these are some of the best links I could find about Frey (via Maud):
Jumping for that Elusive Truth
Time to Floss
Frey's Fairy Godfather
Talking Points (nails the slipperiness/deceitfulness of Frey's LKL appearance)
No more Frey stuff? Ok, deal.