By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Not, by the way, that I ever knocked off any 7-Elevens. I’m not saying that. I’m saying I feel like I might have. In the course of my out-of-control, desperate and violent past, there could have been some convenience-store situations. That is to say, I may experience the despair and soul-death of a man who has knocked over convenience stores — though, technically, if you’re going to go all Smoking Gun on my ass, I was held for shoplifting M&Ms. Peanut.
The kind that feel like little skulls between my pain-racked teeth. The chocolate mushing to bloody brown with every bite.Blood. Mouth. Peanuts.
Okay, okay. Fuck the bullshit. I wasn’t exactly arrested. There was a security guard, in a turban. Whom I turned into a cop for dramatic purposes. And fuck you if you think I need to embellish my super-bad criminal status by describing how I smacked him in the face with the jerky rack. Jerky everywhere.
Preserved meat. Which I ate off the floor on all fours. Like a wolverine . . .
The essential truth, the truth that matters, is that I was an action-packed addict. I didn’t sit around. A thing I might have done is hit a cop with the beef-jerky rack. A detail that will be just as true when I’m throwing up in my grave as it is right the fuck now. The fact that policemen do not wear turbans, especially in Muncie, Indiana, as some logger with no life whatsofuckingever would no doubt point out on a Web page devoted to the subject, means nothing.
But forget all that. What matters is, thanks to this groundbreaker, this boundary-smasher, future personal historians need no longer buy into bullshit categories like This Fucking Happened and This Fucking Didn’t.
But Oh God! Fucking son of a bitch, shit — Christ — hell! I’m vomiting blood out a hole in the back of my neck. Spraying strangers. The town hates me. I am an awful man in an oxford-cloth shirt and perfectly creased pants . . .
No wait. Jesus, what am I saying? That’s not even my life. I apologize. Hard to resist the fevered call of what the WWF might call EXTREME NONFICTION. Prose as real as wrestling!
Somehow, five minutes of poring over Frey’s gory-glorious bildungsroman makes me want to exorcise some demons from my own imagined past. Makes me crave a chance to mine my own trove of searing memories — the kind of memories only memoirists have, of really high-impact scenarios, where everything is realer than real. In a staccato style. That hurts. But in a real and life-changing way.
You don’t want my past, asshole. I’m talking about every beating from the police, every slamming cell door, every On your knees, Jimmy Olsen! in the Quentin sauna — I’m pretty sure Quentin has a sauna — whether it happened or not. Because all of it has made me stronger, forged my will in the machismo-dripping inferno that is jail. Even if I’ve only seen it in movies and Ozreruns.
Haters like to make a big deal out of whether I really murdered the rabbi who asked me to take the dreidel out of his pocket and cup it. Maybe I did. And maybe I didn’t. You smoke crack and guzzle brewskis under a parked bus for two weeks and see how your fact-to-fantasy ratio shakes out.
With memoirs, it’s the story behind the story that moves the unit. People pretend it’s about the writing. But please! Would the incomparable construct of JT LeRoy have packed the same allure with the face of some fusty 40-year-old alterna-lady on the back cover? How much more happening to have an HIV-positive, drug-addicted transgender teen prostitute at the literary helm? Leave the author’s mug off the cover — then explain that he’s a she, or he’s a shy he, fresh from the street. Which provides the romance of the gutter for all those readers who’ve never actually been there . . .
Love it or hate it, A Million Little Pieces has an undeniable power to make the hearts of young women and men beat faster. So what if it’s Harlequin Romance for frat boys? To me, that’s an achievement. And cancels the self-righteous chorus calling for clarification, explanation — the Whole Truth and Nothing But. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
In some slap-me-if-I-sound-like-a-grad-student meta way, Frey managed, or did manage for too short a while, to retrofit his own past and pass it off as true. But the choice of truths about himself that he wants to plant in the public mind leaves him more exposed than the most detailed fact-checking womb-to-tomber ever could. That he was willing to pass his creations off on Oprah bespeaks a more substantial set of balls than any faux episode he survives in the actual text. On the other hand, nobody wants to dress up in Norman Mailer drag and end up coming off like Vanilla Ice.
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