A James Frey Mashup

It was expected that the poster boy for fake memoirists would get a critical raking over the coals for his new book, released yesterday, his “first” novel, Bright Shiny Morning.

But, surprisingly, there is as much love as hate.

If reviewers hated the “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces, they love the novel, Bright Shiny Morning (New York Times‘s Janet Maslin and Time magazine’s Lev Grossman). For some, the novel makes the memoir look better ( the L.A. Times‘s David Ulin; “It’s just one of the ironies of [Frey’s] new book that his fictionalized memoir is a better novel than Bright Shiny Morning could ever hope to be.”)

Or, maybe there’s an East Coast/West Coast thing going on. Ulin, the L.A. Times book editor, hates Morning and its portrayal of L.A.:

Frey seems to know little about Los Angeles and to have no interest in it as a real place where people wrestle with actual life…this is Los Angeles, in the way a cheap Hollywood movie is Los Angeles: superficial, a collection of loose impressions that don’t add up.

while the New York Times Janet Maslin sees it quite differently:

…more like Carl Sandburg in love hate thrall with great maddening Chicago than like the usual tough gritty moody chronicler of California’s broken dreams

It’s a big book, with many characters, plot lines and subplots, as most of the critics point out, including Newsweek’s Malcolm Jones. He uses a fitting term for a book about L.A., calling it “sprawling” and says succinctly, “the novel’s no good.” It’s amusing to watch other critics search for analogies to describe it:

Imagine the movie Crash rewritten as a pastiche of Tom Wolfe, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jackie Collins — and you get a sense of the frustrating experience of reading this slack, self-indulgent mess. Entertainment Weekly, D-

…a refreshingly archaic affair, an old-fashioned book written in an old-fashioned style. It’s less a novel about Los Angeles than it is Los Angeles…reminiscent of one of Tom Wolfe’s billion-footed beasts, but it’s even more reminiscent of the socially conscious early 20th century naturalism of John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck. — Lev Grossman, Time

Written as an Altman-esque collage, it follows several parallel story lines that never coalesce. — David Ulin, LA Times

Time magazine’s Lev Grossman makes a comparison to a more recent book:

Compare Bright Shiny Morning with, say, Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children, a novel of similar proportions and ambitions (it’s about Las Vegas) that was published in January to great critical acclaim. Children drips with nuance and high purpose and psychological complexity, but in all honesty, I would far rather spend an evening (or a morning) with Morning than with Children. The worst bits of Morning are probably worse than anything else you’ll read this year, but Frey is such a relentlessly entertaining storyteller that you just won’t care

But none of this addresses whether people will read the book. For that, turn to Buzz Sugar’s poll. 61% of respondents said they plan to, with another 21% replying they might. Only 15% replied “No. I was so outraged by his lies I will not support this author again.”

The sales ranking on Amazon backs this up — it is now at #23.

A few libraries have received their copies and most, except for those who ordered extremely conservatively, have comfortable holds to copies ratios.

  • Hardcover: $29.95
  • Publisher: Harper (May 13, 2008
  • ISBN-10: 0061573132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061573132
  • Audio CD: Unabridged, $44.95
  • Publisher: HarperAudio, (May 13, 2008)
  • Reader: Ben Foster
  • ISBN-10: 0061575526
  • ISBN-13: 978-006157552
  • Audio Cassette: Unabridged; $85.95
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks, (May 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1433247437
  • ISBN-13: 978-143324743
  • Large Print: $26.95
  • Publisher: HarperLuxe, (July 29, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0061649449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061649448

Amazon also lists a limited edition title Brigtht Shiny Morning: Wives Wheels, Weapons, ($150) also by Frey with photographer Terry Richardson and published by JMC & GHB Editions. This imprint is the publishing arm of NYC rare books dealer, John McWhinnie, who was covered in the April ’08 issue of Men’s Vogue.

One Response to “A James Frey Mashup”

  1. AJM Says:

    Did you notice that Janet Maslin mentioned the Charles Bock book in her review as well? For the life of me, I can’t understand why that book got the roll-out it did. I checked it out of the library and I just couldn’t connect to it at all–so flat and overwrought. In all this discussion of these supposedly searing portraits of dissolute cities, I can’t help feeling like it’s a shame how overlooked a book like I’m Losing You by Bruce Wagner is. That is a truly remarkable depiction of LA life–funny, moving, poetic, edgy, lyrical, emotional.

    Great blog!