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A Million Little Pieces

by

A Million Little Pieces Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. A Million Little Pieces presents some unusual formal innovations: Instead of using quotation marks, each piece of dialogue is set off on its own line with only occasional authorial indications of who is speaking; paragraphs are not indented; sentences sometimes run together without punctuation; and many passages read more like poetry than prose. How do these innovations affect the pace of the writing? How do they contribute to the book's rawness and immediacy? How is James Frey's unconventional style appropriate for this story?

2. A Million Little Pieces is a nonfiction memoir, but does it also read like a novel? How does Frey create suspense and sustain narrative tension throughout? What major questions are raised and left unresolved until the end of the book? Is this way of writing about addiction more powerful than an objective study might be?

3. Why does the Tao Te Ching speak to James so powerfully? Why does he connect with it whereas the Bible and Twelve Steps literature leave him cold? How is this little book of ancient Chinese wisdom relevant to the issues an addict must face?

4. James is frequently torn between wanting to look into his own eyes to see himself completely and being afraid of what he might find: "I want to look beneath the surface of the pale green and see what's inside of me, what's within me, what I'm hiding. I start to look up but I turn away. I try to force myself but I can't" [p. 32]. Why can't James look himself in the eye? Why is it important that he do so? What finally enables him to see himself?

5. When his brother Bob tells James he has to get better, James replies, "I don't know what happened or how I ever ended up like this, but I did, and I've got some huge fucking problems and I don't know if they're fixable. I don't know if I'm fixable" [p. 131]. Does the book ever fully reveal the causes of James's addictions? How and why do you think he ended up "like this"?

6. Why are James and Lilly so drawn to each other? In what way is their openness with each other significant for their recovery?

7. Joanne calls James the most stubborn person she has ever met. At what moments in the book does that stubbornness reveal itself most strongly? How does being stubborn help James? How does it hurt or hinder him?

8. The counselors at the clinic insist that the Twelve Steps program is the only way addicts can stay sober. What are James's reasons for rejecting it? Are they reasons that might be applicable to others or are they only relevant to James's own personality and circumstances? Is he right in thinking that a lifetime of "sitting in Church basements listening to People whine and bitch and complain" is nothing more than "the replacement of one addiction with another" [p. 223]?

9. What are the sources of James's rage and self-hatred? How do these feelings affect his addictions? How does James use physical pain as an outlet for his fury?

10. How is Frey able to make the life of an addict so viscerally and vividly real? Which passages in the book most powerfully evoke what it's like to be an addict? Why is it important, for the overall impact of the book, that Frey accurately convey these feelings?

11. When Miles asks James for something that might help him, James thinks it's funny that a Federal Judge is asking him for advice, to which Miles replies: "We are all the same in here. Judge or Criminal, Bourbon Drinker or Crackhead" [p. 271]. How does being a recovering addict in the clinic negate social and moral differences? In what emotional and practical ways are the friendships James develops, especially with Miles and Leonard, crucial to his recovery?

12. James refuses to see himself as a victim; or to blame his parents, his genes, his environment, or even the severe physical and emotional pain he suffered as a child from untreated ear infections for his addictions and destructive behavior. He blames only himself for what has happened in his life. What cultural currents does this position swim against? How does taking full responsibility for his actions help James? How might finding someone else to blame have held him back?

13. Bret Easton Ellis, in describing A Million Little Pieces, commented, "Beneath the brutality of James Frey's painful process, there are simple gestures of kindness that will reduce even the most jaded to tears." What are some of those moments of kindness and compassion and genuine human connection that make the book so moving? Why do these moments have such emotional power?

14. In what ways does A Million Little Pieces illuminate the problem of alcohol and drug addiction in the United States today? What does Frey's intensely personal voice add to the national debate about this issue?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

jthinks, August 12, 2010 (view all comments by jthinks)
I'm really glad I read this book knowing that it is fiction, rather than memoir. In fact, with that knowledge firmly in hand, it's hard to believe that it was marketed as autobiographical - the characters and plot twists seem far too felicitous to have been real. That said, I found this novel beautifully rendered and very moving. It's always a delight to find someone using language in such a unique style - Frey is a real artist.
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jthinks, August 12, 2010 (view all comments by jthinks)
I'm really glad I read this book knowing that it is fiction, rather than memoir. In fact, with that knowledge firmly in hand, it's hard to believe that it was marketed as autobiographical - the characters and plot twists seem far too felicitous to have been real. That said, I found this novel beautifully rendered and very moving. It's always a delight to find someone using language in such a unique style - Frey is a real artist.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
cbglacier, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by cbglacier)
because it was this incredibly written heart wrenching account and then that it was all bs and we all fell for it, what a rise & fall, it may have made us more cynical but for some of us it was eye opening to not be sheep.
Oprah did a great service with her book club kind of bringing americans back to reading (though not all of us ever left) but she also propagated more of this rise & fall culture that we are now mired in, who is brilliant and 'blowing up' this week/month/year and who is spiralling down because they are just human.
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(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 12 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780307276902
Author:
Frey, James
Publisher:
Anchor
Subject:
Non-Classifiable
Subject:
Minnesota
Subject:
Rehabilitation
Subject:
Substance Abuse & Addictions - General
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Specific Groups - General
Subject:
Frey, James
Subject:
Drug addicts - Rehabilitation - Minnesota
Subject:
Biography - General
Subject:
Recovery and Addiction - Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Subject:
memoir;fiction;addiction;drugs;non-fiction;rehab;autobiography;biography;alcoholism;recovery;drug addiction;rehabilitation;oprah s book club;drug abuse;substance abuse;alcohol;minnesota;novel;american;controversial;james frey;psychology;relationships;cont
Subject:
memoir;fiction;addiction;drugs;non-fiction;rehab;autobiography;biography;alcoholism;recovery;drug addiction;rehabilitation;oprah s book club;drug abuse;substance abuse;alcohol;minnesota;novel;american;controversial;james frey;psychology;relationships;cont
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Oprah's Book Club
Publication Date:
20050922
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
448
Dimensions:
8 x 5.14 x 0.9 in 0.75 lb

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Related Subjects


Biography » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Health and Self-Help » Recovery and Addiction » Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Health and Self-Help » Recovery and Addiction » General
Health and Self-Help » Recovery and Addiction » Personal Stories

A Million Little Pieces Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 448 pages Anchor Books - English 9780307276902 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A Million Little Pieces is as intense and perfectly detailed an account of a human quitting his drug and alcohol dependency as you are likely to read. And James Frey is horribly honest and funny in a young-guard Eggers and Wallace sort of way, but perhaps more contained and measured. He is unerring in his descent into a world where the characters need help in such extremely desperate ways. Read this immediately.?
"Review" by , "A Million Little Pieces is this generation's most comprehensive book about addiction: a heartbreaking memoir defined by its youthful tone and poetic honesty. Beneath the brutality of James Frey?s painful process of growing up, there are simple gestures of kindness that will reduce even the most jaded to tears. Very few books earn those tears — this one does. It will have you sobbing, laughing, angry, frustrated, and most importantly, hopeful. A Million Little Pieces is inspirational and essential. A remarkable performance."
"Review" by , "Our acerbic narrator conveys urgency and youthful spirit with an angry, clinical tone and some initially off-putting prose tics...that ultimately create striking accruals of verisimilitude and plausible human portraits. Startling, at times pretentious in its self-regard, but ultimately breathtaking."
"Review" by , "James Frey has written the War and Peace of addiction. It lends new meaning to the word 'harrowing' and one sometimes shudders to read it. But deep down, beneath all the layers and the masks, there lives something unconquerable in Frey's hurt spirit...And the writing, the writing, the writing."
"Review" by , "One of the most compelling books of the year... Incredibly bold... Somehow accomplishes what three decades' worth of cheesy public service announcements and after-school specials have failed to do: depict hard-core drug addiction as the self-inflicted apocalypse that it is."
"Review" by , "Frey has devised a rolling, pulsating style that really moves... undeniably striking.... A fierce and honorable work that refuses to glamorize [the] author's addiction or his thorny personality.... A book that makes other recovery memoirs look, well, a little pussy-ass."
"Review" by , "Frey proffers a book that is deeply flawed, too long, a trial of even the most naive reader's credulousness — yet its posturings hit a nerve....The prose is repetitive to the point of being exasperating, but the story, with its forays into the consciousness of an addict, is correspondingly difficult to put down."
"Review" by , "Again and again, the book delivers recollections that leave the reader winded and unsteady. James Frey's staggering recovery memoir could well be seen as the final word on the topic."
"Review" by , "Gripping... A great story... You can't help but cheer his victory."
"Review" by , "Insistent as it is demanding.... A story that cuts to the nerve of addiction by clank-clank-clanking through the skull of the addicted... A critical milestone in modern literature."
"Review" by , "Incredible... Mesmerizing... Heart-rending."
"Review" by , "A brutal, beautifully written memoir."
"Review" by , "The most lacerating tale of drug addiction since William S. Burroughs' Junky."
"Synopsis" by , At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his front teeth knocked out and his nose broken. He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks. An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing. There he was told he could either stop using or die before he reached age 24. This is Frey's acclaimed account of his six weeks in rehab.
"Synopsis" by , “The most lacerating tale of drug addiction since William S. Burroughs’ Junky.” —The Boston Globe

“Again and again, the book delivers recollections that leave the reader winded and unsteady. James Frey’s staggering recovery memoir could well be seen as the final word on the topic.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A brutal, beautifully written memoir.”—The Denver Post

“Gripping . . . A great story . . . You can’t help but cheer his victory.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

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