Sara NelsonWhen James Frey imploded as a memoirist in 2006, many said his A Million Little Pieces
should have been—and perhaps initially was—presented as a novel, and that Frey—a sometimes screenwriter—was, both by nature and design, a fiction writer. Bright Shiny Morning
is his first official book of fiction. If it's not quite a novel, less believable in its way than his augmented memoir ever was, there's no doubt it's a work of Frey's imagination. Ironic, isn't it?Set in contemporary Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning
is not a cohesive narrative but a compilation of vignettes of several characters (if this were a memoir, we'd call them composites) who have come to the city to fulfill their dreams. Some examples: Dylan and Maddie, madly-in-love Midwestern runaways who survive through the kindness of near strangers; Esperanza, a Mexican-American maid tortured by a body that could have been drawn by R. Crumb; a group of drunks and junkies who create a community behind the shacks on Venice Beach; Amberton Parker, a hugely famous married movie star who is secretly—you guessed it—gay. Interspersed with these rotating portraits are random historical and statistical factoids (which better have been fact-checked, even if there is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink disclaimer up front: Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable) about L.A.: that, for example, approximately 2.7 million people live without health insurance and there are more than 12,000 people who describe their job as bill collector
in the City of Los Angeles. Frey's intention, it seems, is to create an onomatopoetic jumble, a cacophony of facts and fiction, stats and stories, that replicate the contradictory nature of the place they describe. I expect, given the sharpness of the knives that some critics have out for Frey, that many will say the book flat out doesn't work. First off, there's that voice, the hyperbolic, breathless, run-on, word-repeating voice that was much better suited to a memoir (or even a novel) in which the hero was a hyperbolic, breathless alcoholic and drug addict. And then there's the frat-boy swagger that angered some readers of AMLP
turning up here, too, so faux-cynical as to be naïve: the gang father's attaboy about his five-year-old son's desire to be a cold-blooded killer, and the prurient, adolescent take on sex. (And couldn't someone have stopped him from exclaiming woohoo after some of his fun and not fun factoids?) Yet the guy has something: an energy, a drive, a relentlessness, maybe, that can pull readers along, past the voice, past the stock characters, past the clichés. Bright Shiny Morning
is a train wreck of a novel, but it's un-put-downable, a real page-turner—in what may come to be known as the Frey tradition. Sara Nelson is the editor-in-chief of
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Two years after Freys memoir "A Million Little Pieces" was outed as part fiction, the publicly chastised writer resurfaces with a novel much of which purports to be fact. Set in a Los Angeles populated by miniature-golf moguls, ex-beauty queens, gun-shop owners, debauched child actors, meth dealers, and yoginis in thongs, this gargantuan book is seeded, Melville-like, with chapters cataloguing the citys snarled highways and quirky innovations (e.g., the worlds first video graveyard). The characters are relentlessly stock: two lovesick kids from the heartland ("nowhere anywhere everywhere"); a bulimic, closeted movie star with a "MEGAWATT!!!!!" smile; a Mexican-American maid with an abusive employer. Frey strives for incantatory but winds up with banal; when it comes to emotion, the best he can muster is "Its deep, its true, and its real real real."
Copyright © 2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker