And Nothing But the
Truth…Sorta (Part 1)
It’s hard out
here for a memoirist. In emails from readers, I run across sentences that start
off promisingly enough--“Great stuff” or “I liked your book”--before crashing
onto the rocky shoals of “…if it’s true.”
One can hardly blame readers for their reluctance to invest in anyone’s
personal stories anymore. The discount bins are full of the stirring
autobiographies of non-Indian-gangstah Indian gangstahs, forty-year-old teenage
prostitutes, and philandering philatelists. Okay, I threw in that last one just
because it was fun to type it. But still.
Then we have that triumvirate of truthiness, James Frey, David Sedaris, and
Augusten Burroughs. Before I give these three a piece of my mind that they’re
certain never to notice, let me assure you that I’ve brought my usual standards
of meticulousness to bear in composing this post, as the following table
Stuff written by him that I’ve actually
three pages of A Million Little Pieces, which I can’t honestly say I
“read,” but rather just skimmed with exponentially increasing haste, in a
Talk Pretty One Day, the whole book!
break that down.
mind, he’s the least culpable of the three, as far as messing things up for us
lesser-known memoirists goes. To be sure, he's done the least harm. Well, he
did cause that one train wreck that killed a girl. But in fact, he didn’t,
which is how he ended up getting listed here.
I was in DC for a few nights on day-job business early in 2006 when the two
news stories getting obsessively covered were the frying of Frey by The
Smoking Gun and the latest in a series of female schoolteachers who
got caught preying upon their naive, innocent male students.
Though the former story was the more relevant one to me, being as it concerned
the travails of a Brother Memoirist, I couldn’t help getting more caught up in
the latter one, since the teacher in question was uncommonly hot. (The always
dependable Bill Maher thought so, too. “Just look at her!” he gushed.
"Wait--show that mug shot again!")
I called Gary, my all-around point man in the US. Among the many other
Josh-Muggins-supporting tasks that he generously takes upon himself, such as
designing cover art for my books and mailing out copies to reviewers, Gary
reads non-Josh-Muggins books so that I won’t have to. “It’s all written in this
weird, gonzo style,” Gary said of Frey’s bestseller. Then he added, “It’s just
weird. And gonzo.” Then he added, “That teacher is really hot!”
The following day I was at Borders skimming as much of A Million Little
Pieces as I could bear to skim. My internal monologue:
…This is really hard to follow… To be fair, I ought to try a different
chapter… Hmm, this one is even denser… It’s gonzo and, well, weird… Oprah
really read this whole book? She’s tougher than I thought… How many more pages
should I try before giving this up as a bad job?... I wonder if anyone has
found and posted naked pictures of that teacher on the web yet…
end, I had to forgive Frey because:
(a) He claims that he wrote the book as fiction and was pressured into
reclassifying it as a memoir by Doubleday, and I find that claim credible.
Anyway, it’s a lot easier for me to hate a major publishing house than a
besieged Brother Memoirist who got yelled at by Oprah.
(b) Although his book was bought by millions of people, I suspect it was only
actually read by a couple dozen. Thus, the whole betrayal-of-trust ballyhoo is
The Sedaris case is more complicated, but he’ll have to wait in Green Room hell
with Augusten Burroughs until I take another two- or three-week commercial
break. Later, dudes.