(1)TECHNO-NOIR - 2,981 5 (2)SUFFER IN SILENCE - 26,510 6 (3)THE DIDYMUS CONTINGENCY - 43,423 6 (4)CONVICTION - 44,879 5 (5)WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO END - 61,877 6
Poor James Frey. Poor rich James Frey.
Anyone who knows me (or visits this blog regularly) knows I am a huge fan of the memoir. Finding a good/unique one is the name of the game, and when I read A MILLIONS LITTLE PIECES, I truly felt I had found one worth recommending, and that I did. When I was reading the book I remember repeatedly thinking, "I can't believe this really happened. It's amazing."
Now, of course, I see why I thought that--especially since some of those instances revolved around the sections he fabricated.
Truth, we have been taught to believe, is stranger than fiction. And we stick to that notion. But when it turns out to be strange fiction, well . . . then it is just over-the-top lousy writing and inferior plot development. Don't get me wrong, the book is still decent on its own, but not anything memorable. I know Mr. Frey keeps pleading with his audience that it is "still an addiction memoir" no matter what. But so are thousands of others, so it better be compelling--and special. I've got 37 addiction memoirs in my collection (non-POD, mind you) and with the new knowledge of PIECES, I'd say its rank drops to around 31.
When you pull the wow effect out of PIECES, it falls flat, a book that certainly would have been overlooked by the publishing industry, no matter what his embarrassed agent and editor would lead you to believe.
But the way the public has been reacting is the real interest story here:
I visited two different "big box" book stores yesterday (not for signing) in the Philadelphia area and was amazed at how the James Frey debacle was playing out--a much different situation than the Doubleday statement about only getting 15 returns to the publisher directly.
In one of the superstores, I actually overheard/watched three people return PIECES, two of them clearly disgusted and annoyed (the third was a gift return.)
In the other superstore, they actually had a special line for people returning the book, though while I was there (about a half hour), I only saw two people make returns--though I heard the guy who was returning the second book mutter "f*****g Oprah" under his breath as he left the store.
Even though Frey, Doubleday and even Oprah are downplaying the "untruths" in the book, they all seem to forget one simple notion: that a large portion of people who read memoirs are not fans of fiction at all, and once they have been duped into reading it, it sort of pisses them off.
Most people are saying "screw James Frey" and moving on to the next book. But the publishing industry, for some reason, is highly concerned that Oprah might stop doing her book club. Uber-agent Lynn Nesbit was quoted in the NY Observer as saying one of the most inane things I've heard to date: "This book will come and go, but the ripple effect could be much bigger if it causes Oprah to say, 'I don't want to get into this again,' This would be incredibly damaging for the book industry."
Really? What did the book industry do before Oprah? And what did the book industry do while Oprah took a hiatus from endorsing books not too long ago? What many do not understand is that the average person's budget is fixed. People will spend what they can spend on books and nothing more. Oprah doesn't incite a reader to pull an extra $15 out of his or her pocket to buy a book; the person merely shifts that fifteen bucks from a different book they might have purchased to the Oprah-backed title--and in essence, killing more mid-list authors. If anything, Oprah is suffocating the publishing industry, not breathing life into it. You think Simon & Schuster is happy if the Oprah picks happen to be all Random titles? Death indeed.
That said, I wish James Frey the best. I've noticed that while PIECES is still #1 on the charts, MY FRIEND LEONARD is starting to slip down a few notches. Good thing he landed that fiction deal.
I am on the road, so no breakfast tomorrow and probably no treasure next week. Though I will be adding entries hit or miss from the road.
I wish I could say I found this book on my own--and give myself a little on the back--but it was a submission. What caught my eye was a reference to the writing style of Jonathan Lethem--one of my favorites*--who has a distinct story-telling style that usually leaves you with an indelible smile on your face. So I read DAYS OF GRACE.
And I'm still smiling.
Ian Johns, our thirty-one-year-old protagonist, takes us on a humor-filled ride (roman a clef? sure) of finding himself--via a road journey--after the untimely death of his mother. Ian is devoid of a plan but full of voice:
It's fair to say that I am conducting a series of anthropological experiments of sorts. However, the control group is me and in the end it is me who is also the lab rat.
This is literature at its best, bringing you the ins and outs of Ian's life through delightful exposition, making you pause repeatedly and think, "What a great sentence!"
The writing style is delightful, both light and funny and at times dark and besetting. Falkin could easily be likened to the aforementioned Lethem or to Augusten Burroughs or even J.D. Salinger. It's a tough call, but maybe you should just judge for yourself:
Awakened by noises I couldn't at first readily identify and in a room I only vaguely remember bedding down in (and a room I had never really spent any appreciable time in because it was added on when I was in college), I lay staring at the ceiling's spackle paint patterns, simultaneously discomfited and heartened by the musty smell of familial dirty laundry. Something recognizable in the smell, the stink that rose above the heap. It was the penultimate smell of home, the ultimate being a dinner dish only your family's gastronomical alchemy can conjure, of the bodies of the people from whom I come and from whom I gather strength. The smell of the pack. Primal smell. With a hint of bleach and detergent held in packages expressing urgent freshness rolling down from the shelf.
Bottom line? This book is not only a bona fide page-turner, it's downright cool. This novel has everything going for it--even a dynamite cover. And at $15.50 (@ Lulu) for a 500+ page book, it's hard to tell he went POD at all.
*Please note: Do not start including on your submissions: ". . . and you're really going to love my spicy Chick Lit novel because it reads like Jonathan Lethem!" For the love of stones, it better not.
I am an author and instructor, in that order (for now.) My debut novel (which debuted in the midlist) was released by Penguin Putnam in 2004 and my second novel was released early 2006.
As for this blog, it has been profiled in many online magazines, blogs and news stories, including the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, the LA Times and Publishers Lunch.
To answer the deluge of questions I have been receiving from publicists: I'll review pretty much anything that is good--but it better be good, or I'll never look at another one of your books again. Then I'll hunt you down. Fiction preferred (no fantasy or young adult, go easy on the science fiction.) Non-fiction should be memoir, humor, self-help. Definite no-nos: cookbooks, textbooks, porn, books without verbs. And it must be POD (no small presses.) Otherwise, email with pitch first.