My Friend Leonard
by James Frey
A review by Anna Godbersen
For a book that begins with a jailhouse beating and ends with a forced entry to an exclusive country club, James Frey's My Friend Leonard has a very pink cover. There is good reason for the pinkness of the cover, although it has nothing to do with Frey's style; readers of his last aggro memoir, A Million Little Pieces, will recognize the bare bones storytelling, the big swaths of anger, anxiety and rage (liberally punctuated with fucks, fuckings and motherfuckings), that characterize his sophomore effort. My Friend Leonard begins with Frey's post-rehab, post-jail reentry into society, and it is not an easy one. He is met, almost immediately, by tragedy, as well as the overwhelming desire to drink himself into something far worse than oblivion. Luckily, he has a friend from rehab named Leonard. Leonard is a gangster, a wise guy, an occasional geek, a soft heart. He is usually accompanied by a big guy called Snapper, who talks in ominous tones about taking care of people. Leonard has always wanted a son, and so he becomes a guardian angel of sorts to the struggling James. Leonard gives James money when he needs it, and he frets over his poor eating habits like a mother. Soon enough, he gives James a job. James runs mysterious packages all over the Midwest, and he is paid in envelopes stuffed with cash. There will be guns and girls and cigarettes and cola. James will move from Chicago to Los Angeles. Leonard will watch over him through it all.
Frey is at his best with dialogue; it is through these tart exchanges that he builds likeable, distinct characters. But too much of My Friend Leonard is dull, repetitive monologue. Frey's habit of stringing adjectives together ("I'm nervous tense scared”) and his tendency to run two sentences into one ("The phone rings I pick it up”) give his writing a sketchy, imprecise feel. At worst, the book reads like an awfully long prose poem written in a hurry ("No no no./Suicide./It is dark and it is cold”), and the effect, particularly in the more desperate moments, can be numbing.
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