Synopses & Reviews
Intense, unpredictable, and instantly engaging, A Million Little Pieces
is a story of drug and alcohol abuse and rehabilitation as it has never been told before. Recounted in visceral, kinetic prose, and crafted with a forthrightness that rejects piety, cynicism, and self-pity, it brings us face-to-face with a provocative new understanding of the nature of addiction and the meaning of recovery.
By the time he entered a drug and alcohol treatment facility, James Frey had taken his addictions to near-deadly extremes. He had so thoroughly ravaged his body that the facility's doctors were shocked he was still alive. The ensuing torments of detoxification and withdrawal, and the never-ending urge to use chemicals, are captured with a vitality and directness that recalls the seminal eye-opening power of William Burroughs's Junky.
But A Million Little Pieces refuses to fit any mold of drug literature. Inside the clinic, James is surrounded by patients as troubled as he is including a judge, a mobster, a one-time world-champion boxer, and a fragile former prostitute to whom he is not allowed to speak about their friendship and advice strikes James as stronger and truer than the clinic's droning dogma of How to Recover. James refuses to consider himself a victim of anything but his own bad decisions, and insists on accepting sole accountability for the person he has been and the person he may become which runs directly counter to his counselors' recipes for recovery.
James has to fight to find his own way to confront the consequences of the life he has lived so far, and to determine what future, if any, he holds. It is this fight, told with the charismatic energy and power of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, that is at the heart of A Million Little Pieces: the fight between one young man's will and the ever-tempting chemical trip to oblivion, the fight to survive on his own terms, for reasons close to his own heart.
A Million Little Pieces is an uncommonly genuine account of a life destroyed and a life reconstructed. It is also the introduction of a bold and talented literary voice.
"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. Gus Van Sant
"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 Freys 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." Bret Easton Ellis
"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." Kirkus Reviews
"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." Pat Conroy
"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." Publishers Weekly
“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
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.
About the Author
From the Author -
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I spent most of my childhood in Ohio and Michigan, and I have also lived in Boston, Wrightsville Beach NC, Sao Paulo Brazil, London, Paris, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I graduated from high school in 1988 and received further education at Denison University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1993, I was sent to the Hazelden Foundation for the treatment of cocaine addiction and alcoholism. I moved to Chicago in 1994, where I worked variety of jobs, including doorman, stockboy, and member of a janitorial crew. In 1996, I moved to Los Angeles where I worked as a screenwriter, director and producer. In 2000, I took second mortgage on my house, and spent a year writing A Million Little Pieces. It was published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in May of 2003 and became a New York Times Bestseller, a #1 National Bestseller, and an International Bestseller. It was also named The Best Book of 2003 by Amazon.com. In 2004, I wrote My Friend Leonard, which is a sequel to A Million Little Pieces. In June of 2005, Riverhead Books published My Friend Leonard, which also became a New York Times and International Bestseller. I live in New York with my wife, daughter, and two dogs.
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?
"The most lacerating tale of drug addiction since William S. Burroughs' Junky." --The Boston Globe
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of A Million Little Pieces, James Frey's furious and inspired memoir of addiction and recovery.