This was the choice presented to us by author James Frey on Monday night at Shakespeare & Co. He would either read a passage of the sultry stuff or the gun stuff – the decision rested with us.
This being France, we went for the sex.
(Though wait! Immediately after, the audience then begged for the violence, too. I guess people always want it all).
For awhile, fact or fiction was the real question in regards to Frey. If you weren’t hiding under a rock around 2006, you probably remember him as the writer whose 2003 “memoir” A Million Little Pieces blew up into a big controversy. He was the man who duped Oprah. His memoir, you see, was partly “made up.”
I never read the book – I stayed above the fray (yes, pun intended) – but I can’t say I wasn’t curious to see the man behind the headlines, all these years later.
It’s a rare opportunity, really. Frey doesn’t do readings in the US anymore. Probably tired of answering the same questions.
But this is France, and Paris holds a special place in Frey’s heart. He came here as a 22 year-old, inspired by the “American writer in Paris myth,” he said. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller had “lit him up,” and he wanted to come here to experience the literary fire himself. It was something of a dream for Frey to return nearly two decades later as a visiting author to the famed Shakespeare & Co.
Frey struck me as a bit macho, but I liked him, even against my better judgment. Bearded, broad-chested, he looked like he could have been coaching rugby – he even cracked his neck several times while reading as if it were physical exercise.
Because he did have a unique reading style, no doubt about it. He read really fast, in a voice an audience member later remarked sounded robotic. Not until he hit dialogue, did it sound natural.
When he talked later about his past as a screenwriter, that made sense. His dialogue sounded as it should – just how people talk. He explained that he speaks everything as he writes – he doesn’t put anything down on paper until it sounds right.
Besides these process questions, he didn’t shy away from addressing the controversy, either. He remained quite defiant. He’s an artist, and he believes it his right to use anything at his disposal to tell a good story. “I want to make you feel everything,” he said. Fear, sadness, joy, anxiety, loathing, euphoria – everything. Whatever tools it takes to do that, he’ll use.
I did feel something as he read (more in the violence section actually – his sex passage sounded more like what men might fantasize). I understand the power of a good story – my hope when I open any book is that it will touch me in some way. A good story is one of those things that keeps me grounded to the earth, that helps me make sense of this crazy life.
I just think maybe you should simply call it a story, though. It takes nothing away from the writing to name it fiction, rather than fact. A good story speaks emotional truth – what more could you want?