I'll start with the positive: I liked the raw-ness and the "honesty" of the recovery. Frey is not afraid to be gory and gross; certainly interesting to think of the quantity of vomit that occurs in this book. I also liked his anti-12-step rantings and his very anti-religious stance. I think his argument that addicts replace one addiction with another (religious psycho-babble as an addition) is spot on and well articulated. I also loved his definition of addiction and his ability to take responsibility (rather than look for external factors to blame): “Addiction is a decision. An individual wants something, whatever that something is, and makes a decision to get it. Once they have it, they make a decision to take it. If they take it too often, that process of decision making gets out of control, and if it gets far out of control, it becomes an addiction. At that point the decision is a difficult one to make, but it is still a decision. Do I or don't I. Am I going to take or am I not going to waste my life or am I going to say no and try and stay sober and be a decent person. It is a decision. Each and every time. A decision. String enough of those decisions together and you set a course and you set a standard of living. Addict or human. Genetics do not make that call. They are just an excuse. They allow people to say it wasn't my fault I am genetically predisposed. It wasn't my fault I was programmed from day one. It wasn't my fault I didn't have any say in the matter. Bullshit. Fuck that bullshit. There is always a decision. Take responsibility for it. Addict or human. It's a fucking decision. Each and every time.”
Now, for the negatives...first the lack of honesty is appalling. I think it was a good novel. I think that the purpose of a good book is to convey a message and to allow the reader to empathize with characters that they may not encounter or empathize with in real life. I think that good literature holds many truths regardless of whether the actions that occur in the novel are "true" (or happened in real life). This book only got the exposure that it got BECAUSE it was marketed as a memoir. It is not a memoir. It is a novel loosely based on the author's life. About 30 pages into the book, I asked the person who recommended it if it was really true. I had already spotted some parts that were suspicious and was skeptical of it's status as memoir. He told me about the controversy (including Oprah's bitch-slap) and so I read the rest of it as a novel. The four pieces that I find most un-believe-able are: the dentist scene (not that he couldn't have had a root canal without meds; I had a root canal at 4.5 months pregnant without any meds, but his description of how knocked out he was by the pain seemed a bit over the top); the rescue scene in which he finds Lilly in about 30 minutes (and a dealer and identifies the boys on crack) is completely unrealistic and ridiculous; the raping priest scene also felt unreal (I doubt an old man would take a 20 something boy into a private room and expect to have his way with him; the size/youth/pure power differential is too great. I don't doubt that plenty of priests do take advantage of smaller boys, I just don't see this situation as ringing true.); the relationships between James and Miles and James and Leonard also seem disney-fied (really they just met him, why does one want to adopt him and the other stretch his already thin career capital to help him?). Overall, the novel felt a bit like Tucker Max's stuff...a little boy puffing himself up and telling big fish stories (yes, pun intended).
Second, the writing style is just poor. At first (when he is on the plane and just going through detox and starting in the treatment facility) I liked the short clipped sentences, the poor grammar, the bad punctuation (what is it with capitalization in this book? He does not make common nouns into proper nouns in any consistent or meaningful way, they are just sloppy); it all seemed to go with a mind addled by drugs and alcohol (kind of reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon). Once he's been in treatment for a while, though, I wanted the voice to change. As he gets out and is "recovered" or "recovering" his voice should no longer sound like he is high...because HE'S NOT. He likes to tell us that he is intelligent and certainly he is slightly educated, but the book does not show this to us at all as readers. I read his post-script (dated 2006) in which he admits to embellishing some scenes and tries to justify this embellishment as his way of presenting the real truth and message of addiction (an argument I don't buy..see paragraph above). The writing in the apology is clear, concise, and intelligent. I wanted to see more of this style in the novel.
Finally (and this is also slightly addressed in his apology for embellishing), his character does not ring true. He tells us he is intelligent; he tells us he is ashamed; he tells us about these amazing relationships, but the character in the novel does not ever appear to the reader as likeable. With a few exceptions (mostly his time with Lilly in the clearing) the character James is a brazen bully. He comes across as proud, defiant, and not really very sympathetic.