MY FRIEND LEONARD by James Frey (Riverhead), 341 pages, $35 cloth. Rating: N Rating: N
James Frey is damaged goods. There's no other way to describe him now that he's been busted - his claims that he assaulted a police officer and did lengthy stints in three different jails have proved false - as a less-than-truthful memoirist.
I can tell he's toast by my reaction to the first few pages of My Friend Leonard, his follow-up to A Million Little Pieces, a recollection of years of substance abuse and those three prison stays. The new book opens with Frey in prison connecting to a lifer by reading to him from War And Peace. Nice scenario. I didn't believe a word.
Obviously, the author was emboldened by his ability to sell himself as a credible memoirist after the release of his acclaimed debut. That's the only way to explain his latest account, which stretches credulity to the point where it snaps.
It begins days before he's released from an Ohio prison. After he's sprung, his plan to meet up with the girlfriend he met in rehab fails to pan out due to a coincidence so spectacular as to be laughable.
From that point the book centres on his connection with Leonard, a man he met in rehab, an outsized personality and a gangster with a secret. Leonard takes Frey under his wing, helps him get through the first post-prison months and becomes his guardian angel.
The essential virtue of A Million Different Pieces was its intense stream-of-consciousness prose that took us inside the head of an addict in ways that screamed authenticity.
There's little of that here.
How would I assess My Friend Leonard if it had been labelled fiction, complete with Hollywood ending? The situation is too far gone to say.
Frey's reputation hasn't been enhanced by the cancellation of his appearance here this week. I guess he just couldn't face the music.