When I learned that James Frey had been live on Oprah yesterday to explain/defend/talk about himself some more, I turned on to watch the taped telecast in the afternoon.
I found it telling (as did Oprah) that Frey kept referring to the people in his book as "characters." When I'm thinking of the characters in my books, I refer to them as my "people." That's how real they seem to me. But Frey called his supposedly "real" people "characters" -- a novelist's word.
The publisher basically said they took him at his word. It was presented to her as a memoir, and she believed that. Other guests from the world of publishing said there were things that should have sent up red flags (the root canal sans painkillers being one of them), but how many times have we heard that truth is stranger than fiction?
I was fascinated by James Frey's manner as he sat on Oprah's couch. Such a flat voice, such an expressionless face. I wanted Oprah to go all Counsellor Troi: What are you feeling? Remorse? Guilt? Who cares, I sold a ton of books and I'm on Oprah again? I had no idea. I think Oprah was hoping to get something along those lines, too, and she got nothing.
How does a person get like that -- able to keep their features so blank, their voice so bland? I couldn't do that if I tried, although I did get told by the examiner for my driver's license that I had a "poker face" after I nearly collapsed with relief when I passed. What the tester didn't realize was that what he thought was my poker face was my "intense concentration" face.
I was left with the impression that Frey still doesn't "get it." He doesn't understand why people are so upset. To him, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES is still a "good story" with interesting "characters." Maybe so, but while that might make it a fascinating novel, it's not a memoir. It's like buying a cake when you were sold fruit salad. Both are food, but they're not the same.