Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A Million Little Pieces

Posted by nliakos on August 29, 2015

by James Frey (Anchor Books 2004; © 2003; ISBN 1-4000-3108-7)

When I was a sophomore in college, I took a course in contemporary American literature, and one of the books on the course list was William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, a horrifying account of the depravity of drug addiction. I was appalled by it. A Million Little Pieces is the 21st century version of Naked Lunch. It’s equally appalling but also hard to put down. I wanted to find out how things would turn out for Frey and his strange group of co-inmates at the top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art treatment center in Minnesota where his parents sent him at the age of 23, in his thirteenth year as an addict, close to death. There were the prostitute and the mobster and the federal judge, the former boxing champ and the petty criminal–people from all walks of life, all of them there to try and beat the terrible odds (85% relapse into addiction after completing the program; this is considered to be a high rate of success.).

The book gave me a better understanding of addiction and the self-destructive behaviors of addicts, the compulsion to do whatever is necessary if only they can get the drug or the drink or whatever it is they crave.

The book reads like a diary, and I suspect it is based on one that Frey kept while in treatment–or else he has a pretty amazing memory for details and conversations. Some of it is a stream of consciousness, full of run-on sentences. There are no quotation marks to help the reader sort out who is saying what. Also, there are many superfluous capital letters, as in I left my Room and I left the Unit and I went outside and I walked around the Buildings and the Units a couple of times; and I open the door of the Phone Booth and I step out. The men have gathered on the Lower Level, the chairs are in a semi-circle, and Lincoln is preparing to start the afternoon Session. There seems to be no reason for this, except that the capitalized words are always nouns–but he doesn’t capitalize all nouns, as in German. I can understand that he may have written it that way, but couldn’t an editor have fixed it? I found it distracting.

It’s worth noting that Frey never gave up his resistance to the Twelve Step road to sobriety, with its reliance on a “higher power”, even though everyone at the clinic insisted that no other way works. I think I read recently that the Twelve Step approach is actually less effective than it is said to be (this might explain the 85% recidivism rate). Frey, however, as of the publication of the book, did not relapse.

The book is very much worth reading, if you can stand the constant use of the word fuck(-ing/-ed).

(Some of what Frey writes may not be factual: Cf.

3 Responses to “A Million Little Pieces”

  1. spykeyone said

    Awesome book. My Life with Leonard – think that’s the title? – is great too.

  2. nliakos said

    Just watched a TED Global talk that kind of says the opposite of what James Frey says. Who is right?

  3. melne518 said

    I loved this book! I was disappointed by all the controversy over how much he embellished, but think it would have been just as compelling even if it had been 100% fiction. I also really enjoyed My Friend Leonard, the follow up.

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