My Last Word on Frey, Swear It

Okay, maybe. We’ll see.

I’ve been mulling over a lengthy response to the “Why didn’t Oprah take Bush’s ass to the woodshed instead?” argument I’ve seen several people make, including Lillet and, indirectly, A-Meg–both of whom I respect tremendously, even though I disagree wildly on this point. I’ve hesitated, though, because I know I have a completely irrational love for Oprah, and many making that argument have a completely irrational hate-on for her, so it’s like fighting about whether somebody’s pretty or not. The bottom line is, the woman did her job well–and whether you can stomach that depends on what you think of her and her job. Continue reading

But Seriously, Folks

Should there be a different standard of quality for fiction and memoir? My point, perhaps buried under the glibness below, was that the book was repeatedy deemed unsaleable as a novel–it didn’t meet many, many editors’ standards for artistic merit in its original form. That’s true of a number of very fine and indeed classic novels–save your comments–but in this case, an editor/publisher who’s been around the block just a tad looked at this manuscript and said, “It doesn’t work as a novel, but it’ll sell as a memoir.” From the get-go, the viability of the book hung on its perceived truthfulness, not on the storyteller’s craft.

In the old days, editors who saw promise in a rough novel manuscript would work with the author to realize its potential. As a novel. I understand that the business really doesn’t allow for that anymore, and I don’t blame Talese for that. (I blame chain bookstores who demand absurd discounts; moguls who decide to accessorize their media empires with publishing houses, like bimbos donning glasses to look smarter; and hell, even Bennett Cerf for setting the consignment precedent that to this day permits booksellers to dump whatever they don’t sell right back on the publishers, which means they can just hire illiterates and train them to move high volumes of coffee and inspirational fridge magnets.) But I do blame her for being so cynical as to repackage shitty fiction as gripping non-, specifically to capture a different market than the book was originally intended for, and then act like we’re just quibbling over semantics here.

Interestingly, one of the people who agrees with me is her husband.

All of this is making me wonder whatever happened to the words “Based on a true story.” Didn’t that used to be enough for people? Has the market for fiction gotten so utterly abysmal that authors and publishers need to lie about the real nature of a book?

Don’t answer that.

Bring It, You Beautiful Motherfucker

Okay, I’m really tempted to restrict my comments on James Frey to this link, ’cause it’s brill (and it’s from 2003), but that would mean shutting up. Still, I’m pretty sure I can’t ever top “Suck my cock tattoo that says suck my cock, James Frey, you whore.” I’m totally gonna tattoo my labia with “Neal Pollack, please have a beer with me,” just in case I ever meet him and don’t know what to say.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to the Frey scandal, because… well, who cares? A) I am so over discussing the line between fiction and creative non-fiction, and B) If people want to shell out for a specious and, by several accounts, horribly written memoir, that’s their problem. I worked in publishing long enough to know the public thirst for confessional horseshit is unquenchable, and it’s one of those things I just try not to think too hard about for my own sanity, like the war and Paris Hilton and whether consciousness really can affect matter and the amount of money I’ve spent at The Gap in the last ten years. But then I read that he did try to sell this as a novel, and was rejected 17 times, before Nan Talese told him to call it a memoir, and they’d sell a million little copies. That hurts my feelings. That’s just doing an end-run around a rare show of good taste among the book-buying public: the fact that we’re all sick to fucking death of novels about twentysomething white boys who fancy themselves hardcore and think an unexamined catalogue of drug experiences and Great Moments in Scatology constitutes “edgy” fiction. Unfair!

So, I’m not particularly offended by James Frey’s profiting so spectacularly from being a big, fat liar. I’m offended by his profiting so spectacularly from writing a bad novel. I’ve written enough terrible fiction in my lifetime to fill at least the first floor of my local Borders–where’s mine, Nan Talese? Where’s mine, Oprah? Huh?