Motoko Rich reports in today’s New York Times that A Million Little Pieces author James Frey has signed a book deal with HarperCollins for his first novel, Bright Shiny Morning. But of course Rich could not resist trying to catch the Pieces prevaricator in yet another lie: after being asked to confirm that he’d also sold a collection of short stories, Frey is quoted as responding, “I have never written a short story in my life.” At which point Rich pulls out the smoking gun: Frey, she writes “published a short story last fall in a catalog for an exhibition” by photographer Malerie Marder!
Now, I’m no fan of James Frey (he’s got plenty of them), but Rich’s kicker seems like a cheap shot. Everybody knows Frey’s not a short story writer, so can’t he use any hyperbole without having some work-for-hire (or work-for-a-pal) piece thrown back in his face? As editors at the Times know better than anyone, writers (Jayson Blair, Judith Miller, Rick Bragg, Charlie LeDuff, to cite a handful of recent examples from the paper of record itself) sometimes play fast and loose with the truth. Those of us who read the Times every day have tried to give the paper the benefit of the doubt and move on. Shouldn’t the Times — not to mention the rest of us — do the same for James Frey, now that he’s been punished and is finally doing what he should have done from the start: label his work as fiction?