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Monday, April 21, 2003
James Frey, cute little kitten
I read the interview with James "Fuck David Foster Wallace" Frey at Salon and was amused.
First off, take this excerpt:
From the onset, he breaks rules, rebels against clinic authorities and rejects the 12-step pieties propagated by his well-meaning counselors -- refuses, in effect, to follow the Recovery Arc. And so "A Million Little Pieces" ends up following an arc of its own. It's about a stubborn, prickly, fucked-up guy who, with the help of the Tao Te Ching and some appealingly unsavory rehab mates, finds his own road back to life. "There is no God," he declares, "and there is no such thing as a Higher Power. I will do it with me. Alone ... Every time I want to drink or do drugs, I'm going to make the decision not to do them. I'll keep making that decision until it's no longer a decision, but a way of life."
Doesn't this sound a wee bit like Don Gately from Infinite Jest? Like, more than a wee bit? Like a lot? Gately is a career criminal who gets caught on a job gone wrong and ends up in a recovery house. While there, he totally rejects AA (and NA, and all the A's) but eventually figures out that you don't really have to believe in any of that bullshit to make it work, and after he succeeds he becomes a nice mentor for the new folks who have a similarly (Frey-ish) disdain for all the sincerety of the program. So basically Frey's 347-page book is equivalent to 100 very, very good pages of IJ. Hmm.
Then there's the actual prose. I have no idea how representative it is of the book, since reading an "addiction memoir" sounds about as great to me as listening to my abusive uncle whine about his hard life for 3 hours, but I wonder about it, given this bit:
"I open the door and I walk out. I make my way back to the Unit. Night has fallen and the Halls are dark. Overhead lights illuminate them. I hate the lights I want them gone. I wish the Halls were darker. I am craving the dark the darkest darkness the deep and horrible hole. I wish the Halls were fucking black. My mind is black my heart is black I wish the Halls were black. If I could, I would destroy the lights above me with a fucking bat. I would smash them to fucking pieces. I wish the Halls were black."
No offense to the man, but it kind of sounds like Trent Reznor, doesn't it? I mean, I recognize the importance of teenagers having starter literature about naughty stuff to get them to the harder stuff (so to speak), but it seems like Trainspotting would do the trick as well as this. Dunno.
The result is a book that makes other recovery memoirs look, well, a little pussy-ass -- a book about the body in all its horror. Spit, snot, urine, shit. The deadly shakes, wall-rattling screams. Skin gouging, hair tearing. Nails pulled off toes.
Yeah, because postmodern literature isn't about the body at all, is it? *cough*Bakhtin*cough*
I think James Frey, by contrast, is serious. I like how, in his Observer interview, he talks about "moving against the trend of irony" and being "a bullet in the heart of that bullshit." A writer unafraid of feeling is someone to stick around for.
Eh, I dunno. I think Wallace's views of sincerety are much more compelling and, frankly, convincing--he's much more focused on the good sincerety can do than the bad irony can do. This "fuck irony" impulse comes from essentially the same place the "yay irony" one does, it seems to me--a half-hearted desire to rebell against conventional opinion. Yawn.
Anyway, he seems to like talking about punching people a lot, so perhaps I will go sometime and tic at him and throw peanuts and see what happens.