Dispatches | September 22, 2007

The book world’s abuzz over news of the upcoming novel from James Frey. Perhaps you remember Oprah spitting his name with disdain. Frey wrote A Million Little Pieces in 2003, a blockbuster “memoir” about a hard-drug lifestyle that happened to contain more fiction than the world was happy about at the time.

After the Smoking Gun exposed Frey as a master embellisher of the truth, the bestseller was yanked from Oprah’s book club and most of the literary world, commercial and otherwise, turned against him. All editions of the book now come with a special publisher’s and author’s note to give people a head’s up about the less-than-truthful aspects of the book. Random House also offered $2.35 million “to readers who said they were defrauded by him” according to The New York Times.

But it’s 2007, and Frey’s back. HarperCollins just announced that it’s publishing his new novel, Bright Shiny Morning, in the summer of 2008.

Controversy still surrounds the writer, leading people to mutter “book of lies” to explain who he is when he comes up in conversation. Sure, the initial non-fiction labeling for A Million Little Pieces was perhaps not the wisest choice. I haven’t read the book personally but its impact quickly brought it to my attention. I’ve glanced over it and read passages and truth be told, the man can write. Liar or not, his prose stirs a reaction in people. His first memoir did sell four million copies, after all.

That makes me extremely curious about what his novel will entail. Will it be literary? I don’t know. But I suspect it’ll have enough emotional engagement to make it a worthwhile read. The publisher told the Associated Press that the novel is a “kaleidoscopic’ portrait of modern Los Angeles.” I also want to point out the guy’s age here: he’s only 38. That’s fairly young in the literary world, considering he already acquired enough fame to be published in countless languages. Decades remain in his potential writing career.

Perhaps the fiction will be more commercial than literary, but I’ll refrain from judgment. I don’t particularly respect Frey, but I want to see what happens first and give him a real chance. He published two memoirs so far but let’s see what he can do with the novel. The infamy over A Million Little Pieces shattered his reputation; this new and honestly fiction book might well redeem him. I want to see if he can put the pieces back together and succeed.