James Frey, Public Servant

As previously noted, James Frey is coming back. In his first interview since his second Oprah appearance, he rehashes the whole affair with Vanity Fair‘s Evgenia Peretz (“James Frey’s Morning After“). As much as I’ve always believed that it doesn’t matter whether writers are personally likeable–great art has often been created by jerks, and vice versa–well, he comes off as pretty hard to like.

I also thought, however, as I have with other fraudsters, that I can kind of see how the whole making-things-up business could slip out of control. When you’re desperate to get published, it’s probably easy to see agents, publishers, publicists, etc. as experts whose wisdom should be obeyed. And if you’ve never been in the public eye, it’s probably hard to imagine how a few fabrications will come back to haunt you.

That said, Frey still has to take responsibility for what happened. I’m not one to suggest that memoirs should be fact-checked as a rule, but when authors claim pasts for themselves that carry a certain moral weight–say, as ex-convicts, gang members, holocaust survivors–then the publishers should verify their claims. A memoir of a life in publishing doesn’t necessarily require the same treatment.

Remember, the easiest solution is still to publish them as fiction. Or humor. Or at least with a suitably broad, large-print disclaimer.

Peretz’s piece does a nice job of tracking Frey’s own attitude toward and claims about his book’s veracity. But the guy with the “ftbsitttd” tattoo still seems unrepentant:

“The enduring myth of the American memoir as a precise form is bullshit and needed to go away,” he says. “Although the experience was a nightmare, if I started the process of ending that myth, I’m perfectly fine with it. I’ve said all along that I never wanted my books published as memoirs.”

If he never wanted his books to be published as memoirs, why does he care about the memoir form? I guess he developed an interest along the way.

He may be coming back, but he won’t, apparently, be coming back to Chicago.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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