Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New This Week: Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

The whole James Frey… er… fray was so stupid, pointless and messy, I stood aside. People felt slighted, betrayed. Me? I honestly didn’t care. I wasn’t interested before he was outed as having embroidered/manufactured/fabricated parts of his “memoir,” I was less interested when I knew that he had. I remember wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s a book, right? No one dies. And it’s not as though we hadn’t been down this road before, many, many, many times. As The Washington Post’s Steven Moore says:
I couldn't be bothered with the legal and moral issues because the history of this lawless genre is filled with such dodges. In the 2nd century, a fantastic fiction by the Greek satirist Lucian was cheekily titled a “True History.” Both “Robinson Crusoe” and “Gulliver’s Travels” were first marketed as nonfiction accounts, and even included prefaces by their publishers swearing to their veracity. More recently, we’ve had autobiographical novels, the nonfiction novels of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer and some historical novels with more documentation than you find in scholarly tomes. There’s always been a blurry line between fiction and nonfiction, and Frey isn't the first or last writer to conga on that line.
Still, a lot of people cared -- and continue to care -- very much about the disgraced author that The Smoking Gun outed overfictionalizing his creative non-fiction early in 2006. They care so much that the publication of Frey’s first novel, Bright Shiny Morning (Harper), has set off choruses of reviews and reminiscences as loud as… well… anything in my recollection. It’s a donnybrook, is what I’m saying. And they love him and they hate him but they just can’t stop talking about him. Take, for instance, USA Today:
Give the bloodied but clearly unbowed James Frey points for unbridled ambition.

His truth-challenged memoir A Million Little Pieces may have put Oprah’s knickers in a televised twist, but Frey’s new novel, Bright Shiny Morning, reveals a massive literary ego in full, flourishing bloom.
USA Today
’s review of Bright Shiny Morning is actually fairly middle of the road. Most of the reviews I’ve seen have taken a firmer tone: they love it or they hate it, but no one seems ambivalent. Take, for instance, The Los Angeles TimesDavid L. Ulin who -- dare I say it? -- loathed the book.
“Bright Shiny Morning” is a terrible book. One of the worst I’ve ever read.
And just in case we’re unsure of Ulin’s feelings, he comes back in a while for another volley:
Ultimately, though, it is still what’s on the page that matters, and “Bright Shiny Morning” is an execrable novel, a literary train wreck without even the good grace to be entertaining.
I love Craig Seligman’s review for Bloomberg:
By page 100 I was telling myself, “I love this book!” By page 300 I was restless. By the end I pretty much hated it.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times does her whole review in Freyesque, which is a little weird but, upshot: she likes the book:
The million little pieces guy was called James Frey. He got a second act. He got another chance. Look what he did with it. He stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park. No more lying, no more melodrama, still run-on sentences still funny punctuation but so what. He became a furiously good storyteller this time.



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