Friday, September 30, 2005

Million Pieces of Shit


I looked up Amazon.com sales ranks and couldn’t believe my eyes – “Million Little Pieces” by Frey is No.1. It’s recommended by Oprah! What happened to America? What happened to Oprah? I got this book about three months ago. I gave one American exchange student Pelevin’s “Omon Ra” and she gave me Frey’s masterpiece as a sample of contemporary American literature. I read about 50 pages and put the book down. That student definitely hated me or wanted to taunt me with this worthless piece of junk.
There’s an alternative newspaper “Exile” in Moscow that published probably the best review of that Frey’s book. It’s written by John Dolan. Here are some extracts from that review – “A Million Pieces of Shit”

John Dolan writes:

That's it. 400 pages of hanging around a rehab clinic.
It feels longer. It feels like years.
For all Frey's childish impersonation of the laconic Hemingway style, this is one of the most heavily padded pieces of prose I've seen since I stopped reading first-year student essays. Frey manages to puff up this simple story to book length thanks to one simple gimmick: he repeats. Repeats the beginnings of sentences. Repeats the beginnings of phrases. And the endings. Endings of phrases. Phrases and sentences.
And while his prose is repeating, his tale is descending. Descending into Bathos. Bathos in which he wallows. Wallows. In bathos. Bathos, bathos, bathos.
The results can be quite funny, altogether unintentionally, as when Frey tries to dramatize the travails of love:
"I start crying again.
Softly crying.
I think of Lilly and I cry.
It's all I can do.
Cry."
I found myself laughing every time I read this, imagining Daffy Duck doing the scene: "It'th all I can do!" then turning to the audience to clarify things: "Cry, that ith."
<…>
I found myself becoming morbidly fascinated by the number of conjunctions Frey could pile into a single sentence. The one I just quoted has six "and"s. Not bad, but hardly a record. A few pages earlier, Frey offers a sparkling account of getting a bowl of oatmeal which is sustained by seven "and"s; "...I see that I'm late and I see People look up and stare at me and I ignore them and I get a bowl of gray mushy oatmeal and I dump a large pile of sugar on it and I find a place at an empty table and I sit down."
<…>
Walking on a trail outside the clinic, Frey names and capitalizes everything: "Trail," "Tree," "Animals." Then he sees a lower-case "bird." I was offended for our feathered friend. Why don't the birds get their caps like everybody else?
But then Frey is no expert observer, as he proves in one of the funniest scenes from his nature walks, when he meets a "fat otter": "There is an island among the rot, a large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch. There is chatter beneath the pile and a fat brown otter with a flat, armored tail climbs atop and he stares at me."
Now, can anyone tell me what a "fat otter with a flat, armored tail" actually is? That's right: a beaver! Now, can anyone guess what the "large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch" would be? Yes indeed: a beaver dam!
<…>
Luckily, Daddy has to take off for Brazil, and Frey can return to bizarrely detailed descriptions of every single hug and tearful farewell between him and his new pals.
And I mean detailed. It takes Leonard and his new son three pages just to get out to the limo. And there, of course, there must be another maudlin goodbye, stretched to absurd length. Anyone else would've said, "We hugged and said goodbye," but Frey takes you through every step of the process, padding his bathos as if explaining "hug" to a Martian: "Leonard steps forward. He puts his arms around me and he hugs me. I put my arms around him and I hug him. He lets go and he steps away and he looks in my eyes and he speaks."
<…>
Frey and his tough-guy friends spend more time weeping and hugging than the runners-up in a Miss America competition. Frey's aggressively male stance has something archaic, even campy about it. Frey has placed the entire book in a gender-segregated institution, recalling Hemingway's title Men without Women. (Male patients are not allowed to say anything more than "Hello" to female patients in Frey's rehab center.) And like most homoerotic novelists of the 1930s, his true period, Frey resorts to violence to prove he's no homosexual, confessing (that is to say, boasting) that he beat a French priest to death for daring to place his hand on Frey's utterly masculine thigh.
<…>
Oh, but that's nothing. He's got a million sob-scenes more self-indulgent and false than that one. How about this example of closely-observed detail: "[Lilly] smiles. With her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her shaking hand." I just wish I could figure out how she managed to make her shaking hand smile. That would be worth watching.
As his utterly unconvincing romance with Lilly progresses, Frey dives deeper and deeper into cliche: "I am in love with a Girl, a beautiful and profoundly troubled Girl who is alone in the World...."
The man was born too late; he should have been writing subtitles for silent-film melodrama.
<…>
And before we can even wipe the tears from our eyes, Frey is parting from his counselor and her tough yet sensitive Fisherman boyfriend: "I step forward and I hug her. There is emotion in the hug, and there is respect and a form of love. Emotion that comes from honesty, respect that comes from challenge, and the form of love that exists between people whose minds have touched, whose souls have touched. Our minds touched. Our hearts touched. Our souls touched."
If you can find a worse paragraph than that in any published book, I'd like to see it. At least it disposes of one more character. Alas, Frey must still hug the Counsellor's boyfriend, who says -- I swear to God, this is a direct quote: "I ain't much for words, kid."
<…>
Never mind, never mind; it's time to take the bags out to the car and meet Frey's brother, who's come to take him home. Guess what they do first! Yeah: they hug: "He hugs me. I hug him." It's these sudden twists that make Frey's story such a page-turner.
<…>
And this self-aggrandizing, simple-minded, poorly observed, repetitious, maudlin drivel passes for avant-garde literature in America?


I agree completely.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you did the exchange student a disservice by giving her a book by Pelevin.. I read it in Russian when I was in Australia and remember trying translating a couple of paragraphs to Englsih for my friends just to demonstrate how absurd his writing is. I mean, if I am, being Russian, thought that I have never read anything more depressing and daunting in my life, your friend will need a course of antidepressants to get back to normal.

Konstantin said...

Well, I personally like Pelevin very much. I think he's one of the best mystic absurdists.

Anonymous said...

I loved the book and it has touched home for me. It is not supposed to be written as a great literary novel, but as his experience, thoughts, anquish, pain, fear, love, etc. while going through detox. Count your blessings. I could not put the book down.

dr diana said...

And, the fucking book isn't even true!

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0104061jamesfrey1.html

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