A few years ago, when James Frey's A Million Little Pieces came out and started generating considerable buzz, I put the book on my wish list and fully intended on reading it. Then the Smoking Gun piece came out, exposing parts of the book as fabrications, and then Oprah put on her very special attack weave and cleaved Frey apart on national television after first defending him on Larry King only days before. (Remember how O's hair veritably quivered as she delivered her proclamations and accusations? Faced with that hair I would have crumbled and shut down, too, much as Frey seemed to do. I mean, who could have withstood that hair and withering stare?)
Like many Americans, I think, I thought, "He lied to Oprah! He lied to all of us!" and quietly took A Million Little Pieces off the ol' wish list and didn't expect to hear much, if anything, from him again.
But then this year something changed. Vanity Fair wrote a fascinating profile of Frey, opening up the question if perhaps Frey got treated a little unfairly (um, because who again was irreparably harmed by Frey's exaggerations?) at the same time that some very positive reviews popped up for his third book, and his first novel, Bright Shiny Morning.
I was intrigued after reading the Vanity Fair piece and a few different rave reviews for his new book, so I took a chance and got my hands on a copy of his book. And I'm very, very glad that I did.
Bright Shiny Morning is an epic warts-and-all exploration (plenty of warts, rest assured) of the city of Los Angeles and it's denizens told through an ensemble cast of characters (and other characters who merely make appearances and then disappear), wound around occasional background historical information about Los Angeles. What emerges, however, is a fine and rich fabric of storytelling, interestingly hewn from characters who could largely be seen as stereotypes (a Mexican maid, two teenagers fresh from Ohio, a closeted Hollywood star, a homeless guy, etc.), but whose treatment of the characters is full-bodied and fulfilling, and left me feeling invested in their lives immediately.
A few things to note: Frey doesn't indent paragraphs, he doesn't put dialog in quotations, and he uses commas when he pleases (and quite often it does not please him to do so). But somehow, all things considered, the book totally worked for me. I finished the 500-page tome in a matter of days, unable to put it down, always wondering what would happen next and wanting to return to James Frey's Los Angeles (albeit from a safe distance).
A smattering of negative reviews have surfaced now, and like many people seem to feel about the man James Frey people also seem to feel about this book -- there is love or there is hate, and there doesn't seem to be much in between. The Los Angeles Times was particularly cruel, perhaps unnecessarily so, but then again the book wasn't entirely kind to the city of Los Angeles, so maybe all is fair at the end of the day.
Bottom Line: Bright Shiny Morning is one of the best books I've read this year. Definitely consider checking it out.
I picked up the New York Times Notable Book Later, At The Bar on the recommendation of a friend, and I'm glad I did. Later is a novel comprised of short stories that unfold in small town New York, following the lives of the patrons of a local bar. Author Rebecca Barry perfectly captures the locals as they drink, make merry (or at least try to be merry, with varying degrees of success), love and long for love. Barry turns up the humanity of her characters as the book comes to a close in the kind of subtle-yet-clear way that makes you realize why The New York Times took notice in the first place.
Congratulations to author Kevin Sessums who took home a Lambda Literary Award this year for his memoir Mississippi Sissy. (Check out our interview with Kevin here.) We look forward to reading the follow-up.