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Into The Frey: The Campaign For Real Fiction

James Frey has admitted telling lots of fibs in his bestselling memoir A Million Little Pieces following the Smoking Gun‘s allegations: “I embellished many details about my past experiences, and altered others in order to serve what I felt was the greater purpose of the book”. Niki Shisler in The Guardian attacks the author’s attempt at “redefing memoir”: “Frey has since tried to perform a kind of literary sleight of hand by having a go at redefining memoir. In an interview with Larry King shortly after the story broke, Frey said: ‘I think of the book as working in sort of a tradition of what American writers have done in the past, people like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Kerouac … at the time of their books being published, the genre of memoir didn’t exist … Some people think it’s creative non-fiction. It’s generally recognised that the writer of a memoir is retelling a subjective story. That it’s one person’s event. I still stand by the essential truths of the book'”. She concludes that “This memoir was touted around publishers as a novel for a long time, unable to get a publishing deal. That should tell us everything.The book only works because we believe he really lived it. As fiction, it simply wasn’t good enough”.

In today’s London Times, Kenneth J. Harvey (author of The Town that Forgot to Breathe) turns the debate on its head by launching a campaign for real fiction: “The goal is to have every reference to fact excised from any work labelled fiction. A laborious undertaking, yet one that some brave soul must endure in the hope of returning the spirit of complete fabrication to the untruthful name of what we once believed to be fiction”.

This much-needed dose of satire will also appear in tomorrow’s Toronto Star.

First posted: Saturday, February 4th, 2006.

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