Book Review: A Million Little Pieces

Title: A Million Little Pieces
Author: James Frey
Reviewed by: Jenny Lees

Most people by now have heard the controversy surrounding James Frey’s memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” Frey has been accused of embellishing or flat out fabricating the facts of his addiction and subsequent recovery. Fabricated or not, “A Million Little Pieces” remains an honest examination of addiction, relationships, and the beginnings of sobriety.

The story opens with Frey waking on plane, a hole in his cheek and his four front teeth missing. Questioning the attendant, he discovers he is on his way to Chicago where his parents are waiting to check him into rehab. He is a major addict, having consumed any and every drug at his disposal, committing various crimes and destroying personal relationships. Soon after checking into rehab, Frey begins his inevitable indoctrination into the world of 12-step programs. He is told by counselors and patients alike that he will never maintain his sobriety without the 12-steps. But Frey is an atheist and therefore will never get past the 2nd step (Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.) Instead, he latches onto another philosophy to help him through the difficult path to recovery.

Both atheism and taking personal responsibility for one’s actions regardless circumstances are the main themes of “A Million Little Pieces.” When confronted by his family, Frey refuses to blame anyone but himself for his addiction and his actions. While most stories about addiction insist that the only way to get clean and sober and stay clean and sober is by finding the root of your problems (usually blaming a dysfunctional childhood full of abuse, addiction, and mental illnesses) and then giving up your will to a higher power in order to reach and maintain sobriety, Frey never succumbs to this cliché. He never gives up his will to anyone or anything, instead relying on his inner strength.

When I first read “A Million Little Pieces”, readers could assume that the story was a true memoir, to the best recollection of the author. There were parts that I found difficult to believe, including an excruciating trip to the dentist without the use of anesthetic. While the revelation that “A Million Little Pieces” is in part, or possibly in whole, fiction, this doesn’t take away from the power of this story, and may in fact explain why James Frey isn’t dead or in prison.

Although the themes will be of interest to many readers, Frey’s writing style may not appeal to all. At the beginning of the book, most paragraphs are short, consisting of one or two words. This reflects Frey’s frame of mind at the time. The paragraphs get longer, but there is a lack of quotation marks to indicate dialogue.Addiction is complicated and recovery doubly so. I admire Frey’s assertion that one can achieve sobriety without the crutch of a higher power. It was refreshing to read a story about addiction that doesn’t dwell on blaming the addict’s parents or childhood for the addiction. It’s definitely not a warm and fuzzy book with a tidy happy ending, but it will leave you thinking about addiction in a way that many refuse to consider.


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