Thursday, March 02, 2006

My Friend Leonard by James Frey

You can likely read My Friend Leonard as a true-life story, a wildly embellished memoir, or as a work of pure fiction, shamelessly masquerading as a memoir.

Ostensibly a continuation of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard focuses on Frey's attempt to start over after rehab, and his relationship with Leonard, a classic Italian impresario who Frey befriended in rehab. The problem with the text is not in the writing or the story -- the text is engaging and evokes emotion, although it lacks the edge of A Million Little Pieces. No, the issue with the book, at least for me, was that I found it impossible to separate the narrative and story from the recent revelation that Frey embellished many details in his writing.

One of the inside pages in My Friend Leonard states in very small type that "some details and sequences of events have been changed". That added to what we know Frey altered made me wonder while reading the text what really happened and what was made up. Was there really a Leonard, and if so, how much did he resemble the charismatic figure in My Friend Leonard? Some might argue that the distinction is irrelevant. Fiction is filled with made up characters that none-the-less come alive and evoke sympathy, pathos, and feeling. If one can make that leap for fiction, why not for a memoir that may be doing the same thing, but to a lesser extent? I guess for me it comes down to the fact that with fiction I know the characters are made up from the start. With a memoir, I expect more, from the text, and especially from the author.

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