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“It's broken beyond repair. It's in a million little pieces.”

Though not based on a bipolar life, James Frey’s “autobiographical” novel vividly portrays the struggles many people face not only with their own inner demons, but also the outward way they can manifest themselves in harmful rollercoaster addictions.  At times tragically comical and at others deeply sad, many of the characters in Frey’s novella are used to show the preposterous and potentially lethal situations that out of control behaviour can lead to: violent outbursts; dangerous situations; disappearance and suicide to name but a few.
After being advertised as a largely autobiographical memoir, the novella created uproar after it was revealed that sections of the story were embellished.  In particular, Frey came under heavy fire from Oprah Winfrey who said she and her readers felt “really duped.”  Nonetheless the novella is hailed as a useful insight into rehab and the complexities of addiction for individuals and their loved ones.
The book tells the story of James Frey’s time in rehab.  Opening with Frey in an almost dead physical and mental state, things get worse before they get better.  In rehab we see Frey’s physical and mental self transformed.  Through the basic necessities of food, shelter and water, to the higher needs of friendship, love, self expression and belonging; Frey leaves the clinic a different person.
For bipolar readers who have spent time in psychiatric wards the recounting of Frey’s rehab will bring back many memories through its similarities.  Comforting as well as upsetting, it is an honest and brave portrayal of people struggling on the edges of survival.
Stylistically Frey’s book is an idiosyncratic success.  The poetic and thoughtful language contrasts with some of the violent and gory explicit descriptive detail.  He also uses a very non-traditional structure with words often presented in a short list succession and heavy use of repetition.  In some ways the repetition is effective at capturing the way negative thoughts can go round and round and excruciatingly shows how people cling to what is known; even if its destructive.  Frey’s fear of allowing people in and his difficulty with moving forward are shown in this way: “Drink.  Smoke.  Panic.  Panic. Go. Stay. Fuck. Fuck.”
As well as feelings and emotions, Frey also explores the varied attitudes of addicts themselves towards their own addictions - much like the wide-ranging attitudes of people with mental health conditions about their own diagnosis.  Nature vs Nurture?  Who or what is to blame? Why me?
‘A Million Little Pieces’ is a pain filled novella which will hold your attention throughout - only slightly marred by the controversy surrounding it

7/10 – Juan Michael Gonzalez, Tuesday 12th March 2013.





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