NEW YORK — James Frey and the publishing world can relax a little: Oprah isn’t angry.
For days, Frey has been intensely criticized — and defended — over allegations that his best-selling memoir of addiction, “A Million Little Pieces,” was far from the candid self-portrait that he, his publisher and Winfrey had claimed it to be.
But until she made a surprise call Wednesday night to CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Winfrey, who selected the book for her book club, had maintained a suspenseful silence.
Phoning in near the end of the show, on which Frey gave his first interview since the controversy broke earlier this week, she dismissed the affair as “much ado about nothing” and urged readers inspired by the book to “keep holding on.”
“What is relevant is that he was a drug addict ... and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves,” Winfrey said, adding that she had wanted to hear Frey’s comments before speaking to him or saying anything in public.
Frey has been under close scrutiny since The Smoking Gun (www.thesmokinggun.com), an investigative Web site, posted a story last Sunday alleging the author had substantially fabricated his criminal record and other aspects of his past.
Publishers, writers and readers have had their say, but Winfrey’s is likely the defining opinion. Her selection last fall of “A Million Little Pieces” for her book club made the memoir a million-copy seller and Frey a hero among recovering addicts.
Frey’s book continues to top the best seller list on Amazon.com, as it has much of the time since Winfrey picked it. His publisher, Doubleday, said Wednesday that it had received a small number of complaints to its customer service line about “A Million Little Pieces.”
Truth or fiction?
Frey has acknowledged to The Smoking Gun that he embellished parts of the book and he said so again Wednesday night, stating that alterations were common for memoirs and defending “the essential truth” of “A Million Little Pieces.”
“The book is about drug addiction and alcoholism,” he said. “The emotional truth is there.”
Frey’s book was first published in 2003 to wide acclaim and occasional skepticism. He has been challenged before about passages describing such traumas as receiving root canal surgery without anesthesia and boarding a commercial plane covered in blood and vomit.
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But The Smoking Gun’s story was by far the most thorough. Relying on extensive reporting and documentation, The Smoking Gun disputed everything from Frey’s claim to having served three months in jail to being blamed for a car crash that killed two fellow students while he was in high school.
On Wednesday night, Frey said that only a small percentage of his 430-page book had been challenged and offered a defense similar to that of his publisher: Memoirs should not be held to the standards of other nonfiction books.
“Everyone’s memory is subjective,” he told King. “If in three weeks we were both interviewed about what went on here tonight, we would both probably have very, very different stories.”
Unlike other memoirs, his book includes no disclaimer about names or events being changed. “My Friend Leonard,” Frey’s sequel to “A Million Little Pieces,” does include such a warning.
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