Non-Essential Truth


I missed most of the James Fray, so my excuses if this topic* has been touched on already. Although Frey's tangled-web defense of his shamoir A Million Little Pieces continues to veer in odd directions (He's now in open disagreement with publisher Nan Talese, who denies Frey's claim that he initially tried to sell the book as a novel rather than a memoir), the coverage has mostly devolved into meta-mopping up: the hoax-within-a-hoax angle, the whither-truth-in-our-decadent-culture angle, the selling-hotter-than-ever angle, the inevitable Bush-is-really-to-blame angle.

But I haven't seen anybody address how the book's subject matter has flavored the controversy. A Million Little Pieces depicts Frey as a drunk and drug addict so unhinged by his addictions that he sinks to every kind of misery and depravity—many of which now appear to have been invented. (Following the usual logical arcs of these stories, I'm going to presume that more and more of Frey's book will turn out to be bogus the longer this controversy goes on.) In the minds of many readers (including Oprah Winfrey), these fabrications aren't so bad because the book has achieved other important goals. Frey argues that he's still telling some kind of Herzogian "essential truth" that make the embellishments OK, maybe even necessary.

That essential truth, of course, is Alcohol and drugs ruined my life and took away my free will, and they'll do the same to you if you don't watch out. So here's a question: Is there any other essential truth that Oprah or anybody else would continue to believe in under these circumstances? If Frey were depicting himself as a guy whose life was ruined by having been brought up in a fundamentalist Christian household, or as a gay man who turned into a heterosexual through the power of prayer, or an Iraq war veteran whose mind was fucked up by his service, or a reformed skinhead who used to beat up people of other ethnic groups, or a kid whose life turned upside down after public school guidance counsellors misdiagnosed him with ADD or OCD or some other disorder, or a convicted child rapist exonerated by DNA evidence after ten years in prison, if he were pretending to be anything other than that daytime TV staple, the promising young man brought low by booze and drugs, would anybody still believe that the essential truth of his story is more important than the lies he used to tell it? Or is it only the ancient story of Gin Lane, demon rum, and whatever new drug is more powerful than crack cocaine that remains true even when it's false?

Clarification: By "topic" I mean the antidrug paranoia that fuels Frey appreciation, not the general controversy over his fabrications, which Jacob Sullum addressed here.