James Frey on Oprah.
Oprah had James Frey on her show this morning, along with his publisher Nan A. Talese, and she angrily confronted him about producing a fictional memoir and "duping" her and her viewers.
Frey, who found himself booed in the same Chicago studio where he had been embraced not long ago, acknowledged that he had lied.
A sometimes angry, sometimes tearful Winfrey asked Frey why he "felt the need to lie." Audience members often groaned and gasped at Frey's halting, stuttered admissions that certain facts and characters had been "altered" but that the essence of his memoir was real.
"I don't think it is a novel," Frey said of his book, which had initially been offered to publishers, and rejected by many, as fiction. "I still think it's a memoir."
Thursday's broadcast, rare proof that the contents of a book can lead to great tabloid TV, marked an abrupt reversal from the cozy chat two weeks ago on Larry King Live, when Winfrey phoned in to support Frey and label alleged fabrications as "much ado about nothing."
"I left the impression that the truth is not important," Winfrey said Thursday of last week's call, saying that "e-mail after e-mail" from supporters of the book had cast a "cloud" over her judgment.
On a segment that also featured the book's publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday, Frey was questioned about various parts of his book, from the three-month jail sentence he now says he never served to undergoing dental surgery without Novocain, a story he no longer clearly recalls.
Winfrey, whose apparent indifference to the memoir's accuracy led to intense criticism, including angry e-mails on her website, subjected Frey to a virtual page-by-page interrogation. No longer, as she told King, was she saying that emotional truth mattered more than the facts. "Mr. Bravado Tough Guy," she mockingly called the author whose book she had enshrined last fall and whose reputation she had recently saved.
Talese and Doubleday were not spared. Winfrey noted that her staff had been alerted to possible discrepancies in Frey's book, only to be assured by the publisher. She lectured Talese on her responsibilities: "I'm trusting you, the publisher, to categorize this book whether as fiction or autobiographical or memoir."
Talese, an industry veteran whose many authors have included Ian McEwan, George Plimpton and Thomas Cahill, told Winfrey that editors who saw the book raised no questions and that A Million Pieces received a legal vetting. She acknowledged that the book had not been fact-checked, something many publishers say they have little time to do.
In a statement issued later Thursday, Doubleday, which initially had called the allegations not worth looking into, said it had "sadly come to the realization that a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished."
The publisher said an author's note was being prepared that will be sent to booksellers to insert into current editions and that any future printings would be delayed until the note is included in the actual book. But no changes in the text are planned and the book will remain classified as a memoir.
Winfrey's words also were harsher than her actions. She did not unleash publishing's version of the death penalty: revoking her endorsement, a devastating and unprecedented action. Only once before has she turned, relatively mildly, on a book club pick: In 2001, she withdrew her invitation for Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, to appear on her show after the novelist expressed ambivalence over her endorsement.
Her current choice is Elie Wiesel's classic, Night, a memoir with a concise, literary style that has led some to call it a novel.
Three years ago, Frey stepped up as publishing's latest and baddest bad boy, with tattooed initials on his arm — "FTBSITTTD" — bearing a defiant and unprintable message. Winfrey's selection made his book a million seller and Frey a hero to many who believed his story was theirs.
"In order to get through the experience of the addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was and badder than I was, and it helped me cope," Frey said Thursday on Winfrey's show. "And when I was writing the book, instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image."
Frey's career will likely never recover, although so far he has not suffered for sales. His book, a million seller thanks to Winfrey, remained in the top 5 Thursday on Amazon.com. A second memoir, My Friend Leonard, was in the top 20.
He currently has a two-book deal with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, with a novel about contemporary Los Angeles due in 2007. The publisher did not have an immediate comment Thursday.
Beyond Frey, and his publishers, stories of suffering may themselves take a fall. Frey's saga comes at a time when the work, and even the identities, of such alleged hard-luck authors as J.T. Leroy and Nasdijj have been questioned. St. Martin's Press recently added a disclaimer to an upcoming book by Augusten Burroughs, another memoirist who has been challenged.
"I think for a while, this will make people careful," said Ashbel Green, a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf.
"But this question of fact checking is a complicated one. At The New Yorker and Time and Newsweek, you have experienced people who know where to go and what's right and what's wrong. We don't. There's been a traditional dependency on the author."I think Oprah is fantastic. She could have just ignored the controversy and left it with the statement she made on Larry King Live. I think it was extremely bold for her to confront Frey on her show, and I applaud her for it.
I thought about writing two reviews of this book, one review of it as a novel and one as a memoir. I decided not to, however, because, honestly, I'm so happy to be finished with it that I don't want to spent anymore time with it than I have to. I could write my own damn book about it, but I'm not going to.
hello. i've only read like ten books since graduation in may and i'm not going to lie to you, one of them was 'the nanny diaries.' i had such high hopes for it. and knowing this tyler STILL invited me to write book reports so i'm going to use this as motivation to stop reading crap, or at least start reading crap of a slightly higher caliber. like 'bergdorf blondes.' just kidding! i'll get back to you soon on either 'waterland' by graham swift, 'the long goodbye' by raymond chandler, or my new mcsweeney's. i haven't yet decided which one to take on. bye bye!
I suppose this is my only chance to make a good impression here. I hope I don't flub it too badly. I'm the newest member of The Book Report. I've had posting access for a good few minutes now, and I must say I couldn't be more pleased.
"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
This will become a group blog written by friends and/or online-buddies who enjoy reading and sharing with others about what they read. It may be about fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. We may throw in some noteworthy news issues that we find interesting. It may become scattered and random, but hopefully extremely enjoyable.