As I watched Oprah rip James Frey a new asshole for "embellishing" the truth in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy. Yeah, some of those things didn't go down exactly like he said. He lied... Big deal... I haven't read his book, but seeing today's Oprah really made me want to. What's all the fuss about?
Having had quite a go at it myself (with substance abuse), I can relate to James Frey and what I've heard about his book. The thing I kept thinking whilst Oprah laid into him, asking "Did Lily even exist? Did this happen? What really happened?", was that she probably hasn't had a major drug problem. Addiction warps your sense of reality. It warps your brain, sometimes permanently. I think he must have written about the reality that he was experiencing, as the addict, not the arresting officer. But, like I said, I haven't read the book, just the internet "expose." The "Smoking Gun" is pretty much on my shit-list anyway because of the witchhunt, self-righteous attitude it keeps wagging in my face.
If I were to write a memoir about my days as a tweeked out speed freak, it would most certainly be tainted with the delusions that I often entertained in those days. Everything seemed so immediate and important and profound, but was probably very mundane to the outside observer. In order to illustrate the "realities" of drug addiction, would I compromise "reality"? Hell yeah, I would. I would have to...Because when you are under the influence of mind-altering substances, your reality IS compromised. One may argue that in writing about these experiences you could simply say "it was as though" or "It felt as if" or "it was like" but to do so really takes all the punch out of it.
Oprah feels duped. Is it because she was actually moved by the book, when she thought it was all true? Does the redemption have less import if it didn't actually happen exactly the way it said. Who can know anyone else's truth anyway? Just like the JT Leroy controversy, the truth is not always black and white. In the age of quantum physics, our ideas of "reality", "facts" and "fictions" will have to change in order to accommodate a new paradigm.
What is a memoir anyway? A narrative composed from personal experience? Who can say that another persons experience or memory of is not valid? People have "near death" experiences and go into the light, are met by dead relatives, actually SEE heaven, but the reality is "No, you didn't go to heaven. You were laying right here on this table the whole time! Dead as a doornail!" Should these books be listed as FICTION? Should the authors be publicly shamed and called liars? Will the "Smoking Gun" show photos of them clearly NOT in heaven. No...They won't because the reason they are picking on James Frey is because of Oprah and her book club. It's part of the cannibalism of our culture. We love to tear down the things we build up. Devour the celebrated... I bet if you "fact-checked" almost any memoir, there would be discrepancies with the "real truth" and not because the author was LYING or trying to fuck with Oprah. But because the truth is subjective. HERE is a link to a great little article about the nature of TRUTH by Ariale M. Huff. In it, she talks about several things that I find indispensable when discussing truth. Like, how there is no such thing as absolute truth and that it is not always best to tell the truth.
Didn't anyone ever tell Oprah, you can't believe everything you read?