Above the Frey

In response to people who wonder why an anarchist would refuse to shoplift, I’m fond of saying that no one demonstrates greater subservience to the concept of private property than a thief. In fact, I agree with Proudhon that, in a certain sense, all property is theft – but never mind that now. I’m more interested in a parallel insight suggested by the James Frey case: that no one depends more upon the strict adherence to a literal concept of truth telling than a liar.

I know y’all are probably sick of hearing about Frey’s fiasco, but I want to call everyone’s attention to two excellent blog posts that together say just about everything that needs to be said about it. Siona writes from her perspective as a recovering addict:

I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – his path was not mine, nor could mine possibly be anyone else’s – but the fact that he so virulently rejected AA and the 12-step program in favor of ‘will-power’ seemed a little unbelievable to me. No one recovers alone, and it’s irresponsible and cruel to tell other addicts that it’s merely a lack of will-power that’s destroying them. It’s not will-power that saves, but love, and this seems so sadly absent from both Frey’s book and his situation now. It might be true that not every addict ‘finds God,’ but every addict does and must surrender to something greater than his or her own ego. Frey never does.

Patry Francis tackles the issue from the perspective of a soon-to-be-published novelist. In a masterful post entitled Why I Write Fiction, she says, in part:

For the same reason that no one would watch a show about a bunch of college kids sitting around in their underwear whining or twenty-five women competing for a limp rose on THE BACHELOR if they thought (knew?) it was scripted, no one would have been willing to hold Frey’s hand through 438 pages of vomit and bathos and teary redemption if they didn’t believe it really happened.

As a fiction writer, I’m rather proud that a book with no claims to factual accuracy is held to a higher standard. If it’s not “true,” then it damn well better be well written – and believable. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

But in another way, I think that this new hunger for an ever more elusive “truth” insults fiction. Surely, many people who are flocking to memoirs and reality TV are missing the essential secret about fiction. It’s truer than the truth.

Shakespeare may never have been a king, but he taught us more about power and betrayal than any memoirist ever could have. Why? Because he knew more than the narrow facts of his life allowed. More than most kings or scheming underlings or thwarted lovers who ever lived.


On an unrelated note, be sure to check out the second edition of the fledgling Progressive Faith Bloggers Carnival. The first edition of this projected weekly carnival – which I gather will shortly have a home base and rotating hosts – was here. (I guess it’s a mark of just how open-minded they are that they can make room for a “religious agnostic” like me!)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.