|James Frey (Photo Credit)|
What am I afraid of here? That James is writing about himself. Let me explain: Frey's main character, Ben, is "flattened by a piece of plate glass" that falls on him at a construction site early in the story. He survives and wakes from a coma to find that he has become a miracle worker. Could the plate glass be a metaphor for the anvil of wrath that fell on him after A Million Little Pieces was exposed as largely fictional? Apparently, he was so hounded by photographers and class-action lawsuits following his harrowing dress-down by Oprah that he was forced to take refuge in France. Now, let's look at his 'post-crucifixion' experience: he's still part of the literary world because people still write articles about his production. I would say his status as literary outcast (a title that frequently preceeds his name) is--if not always, then frequently--in air quotes. Sure, it's used as often for him as Mr. or Ms. is for others, but it's what perpetuates his bad-boy caché. Didn't he previously color himself as an outcast--a recovered outlaw, who saw the light and cleaned himself up?
Remember, the man refers to himself as Big Jim. Yes, yes, this may be an attempt to heal the wounded soul and to project an image of vital importance, but still....outcast? I'm skeptical. In 2007, Harper Collins published Bright Shiny Morning. In 2010, he co-produced (again, involving controversy over the exploitation of MFA candidates seeking publication) the movie I Am Number Four.
Well, let's take a look at Frey's description of Final Testament. Specifically, try out this explanatory line from Frey's site:
"[Ben] proceeds to roam the city and surrounding areas, reuniting with estranged family members, shooting buckets of miracle cum into the orifices of a wide variety of women and men who afterward will be happy forever, denounces the Bible and other organized religion, speaks to the entity humans understand to be God and tells them that He isn’t going to save them, warns that the end is nigh, generally has a good time doing whatever he fancies, and advises others to do so as long as nobody gets hurt." (Frey)
Really, the scary thing is--even if this is a veiled self-portrait of Frey and his virtual resurrection in the literary world (by entering through the high art door propped open for him at Gagosian)--it also points to the tacit message that devalues the notion of the future. Even though it's been positively reviewed by The Financial Times, the book's message seems filled with overwrought millenial angst and appears entirely devoid of hope. It's a message all too familiar, too overplayed in the popular media, which can be every bit as scurrilous and venal as Frey himself has been accused of. So then--what more can we really learn from this book that hasn't already been communicated by other means? Is there something to the book's theme and aura besides controversy?
It brings me right back to a question I often ask myself: what is the role of the writer in society? Do books like Final Testament contribute to constructive dialogue, or is it just another product on the conveyor belts at Big Jim Industries?