A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey

Eight stars

In his much-debated book, Frey offers the reader a significant glimpse into his life as an addict and the time he spent in a treatment centre addressing these demons. Opening in dramatic fashion, the reader is immediately treated to Frey circling the drain as he lands in Chicago and is shipped off to an unnamed facility in Minnesota. His arrival garners much confusion and pushback, as Frey expresses feeling that he did not belong or fit in amongst others who are at various stages of addiction. The reader discovers, through Frey’s own narrative, how withdrawn he feels about the process and how, while being frank about the depths to which his addiction overtook his life, he does not feel that a counselling and Twelve Step approach will reunite the million pieces into which his life has shattered over the thirteen years since addiction formally reared its ugly head. Bridging acquaintances with numerous others at the facility, Frey is able to compare his life against those of others who have also had to battle addiction. With first-hand accounts of withdrawal symptoms, despair, and refusing to engage in therapeutic intervention, Frey seems well on his way to burning the money spent on his time in treatment. It is only when his parents arrive for Family Counselling, an intense program whereby the addict and those closest to him tear off all the scabs related to the addiction, that Frey begins to synthesise the pain and devastation that his life has become. The reader is able to see the insights that Frey offers, as well as the reactions of his parents, coupled with a better understanding of the addiction’s nexus. These insightful sections begin the first steps in the long road to recovery and Frey’s ability to find some semblance of order in his shattered life. However, a fellow addict, Lilly, plays a key role in his life at this point in time and their connection proves an addiction in and of itself, as well as contravening the Cardinal Rule of the facility. A wonderful story that pulls no punches about the horrendous nature of addiction, the struggles an addict faces in coming to the realisation of their powerlessness, and the crux of the recovery process. Told in as raw a format as many readers will have encountered, Frey presents the reader with much food for thought as they explore this poignant narrative.

While much has been made of the validity of the text, those who choose to sit on their pedestals and lob blame or scorn do nothing for the message found within its pages. Frey tells an extremely naked story about the addict and the struggle to climb out of the hole in which they dig themselves. Be it drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or other vices, Frey’s narrative can touch the heart of the attentive and non-judgmental reader. As Frey says in his own words, “There is no excitement, no glamour, no fun. There are no good times, there is no joy, there is no happiness. There is no future and no escape. There is only an obsession. An all-encompassing, fully enveloping, completely overwhelming obsession.” As soon as the reader can come to terms with this and sees the message at the root of the story, that of the horrors of addiction, there is a chance to synthesise all that is told in this story. Passing judgment or trying to vilify the author because of factual irregularities serves only to demonstrate how said critic misses the point of this book and lacks of ability to comprehend the deeper message. Addiction is horrid, it is a struggle each and every day. We can sit in our ivory towers and bemoan those who drink or smoke crack, but that will not solve the problem, it only seeks to push it under the rug. While the early chapters were hard for me to digest, not only for their content but also the jagged nature of the writing style, I grew to accept that Frey sought to present the reader with the perspective of the addict, as though it were a written at the time of the events. Choppy, repetitive, and even nonsensical at times, Frey portrays the struggles that the addict must face while also presenting a lifestyle that, for some readers, is entirely foreign. Add to that, the text is free from any quotation marks, allowing him to recollect things as he did, rather than shackling himself into anything binding. Frey tries to shine light on it and offer a degree of compassion for those who struggle by personalising the suffering. For that, he is owed a debt of gratitude.

Thank you, Rae Eddy, for opening my eyes to this book and to the inner struggles with which I could relate on many levels. You have touched my life in ways that I cannot clearly elucidate, but I think you know precisely what I mean, even without the written word.

Kudos, Mr. Frey for putting forth this frank account of the struggles an addict faces. Some may be too wrapped up in their own soap box speeches as they dole out praise and the public rushes to guzzle their ‘Kool-Aid’. You steer clear of this and the drama of talk-show blather.