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My Friend Leonard Hardcover – June 16, 2005
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The Amazon Book Review
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In the bold and heartbreaking My Friend Leonard, James Frey picks up the story of his extraordinary life pretty much where things left off in his breakout bestseller and Amazon.com Best Book of 2003, A Million Little Pieces, the fierce, in-your-face memoir about Frey's kamikaze run of self-destruction and his days in rehab. Fresh from a stint in jail from pre-rehab-related charges ("On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hit me in the back of the head with a metal tray."), clean-living Frey returns to Chicago and gets sucker-punched with a cruel blow that will leave readers ducking for cover in anticipation of the blinding bender that's sure to come. But then the titular Leonard, the larger-than-life Vegas mobster ("West Coast Director of a large Italian finance firm") whom James befriended in rehab, steps into the story and serves equal parts unlikely life coach, guardian angel, and father figure for the grief-stricken author, adopting him as his "son" and schooling him in the fine art of "living boldly":
Be not bold, be f-cking BOLD. Every time you meet someone, make a f-cking impression. Make them think you're the hottest shit in the world. Make them think they're gonna lose their job if they don't give you one. Look 'em in the eye, and never look away. Be confident and calm, be f-cking bold.
Hurricane Leonard storms into James's life, showering his young charge with multi-course feasts at steakhouses and Italian restaurants, courtside seats at Bulls' games, Cuban cigars, and an elaborate Super Bowl party in Los Angeles, all the while doling out wisdom on life and love and motivating James to stick to his burgeoning writing career. James even has a brief stint as an employee of Leonard's, though occupational hazards--like having a nine millimeter shoved in his face--prove too much for the novice bag man (though he does make enough to invest his earnings in a Picasso drawing). When Leonard drops out of sight for an extended period, his absence leaves readers aching to hear the familiar refrain of "My Son!" just one more time.
Frey sticks to the taut, staccato style that shot through A Million Little Pieces with such raw electricity. Surprisingly, the tone feels equally at home with this book's focus on friendship and extreme loyalty, and works to intensify the always-looming, adrenaline-rush threat of violence and the lure of the Fury that courses like a riptide throughout the book. Ultimately, it's a sense of hope, and humor even, that prevails and makes My Friend Leonard a stand-alone success. Despite his shady pedigree, you'll long to have a friend like Leonard just a phone call away. --Brad Thomas Parsons
James Frey's List of Books You Should Read
Tropic of Cancer
The Great Santini
See more recommendations from James Frey
Amazon.com's Significant Seven
James Frey graciously agreed to answer the questions we like to ask every author: the Amazon.com Significant Seven.
Q: What book has had the most significant impact on your life?
A: Tao te Ching by Lao Tsu. Completely changed how I think, behave, live my life. Nothing else comes close.
Q: You are stranded on a desert island with only one book, one CD, and one DVD--what are they?
A: The book would be the Tao te Ching, the CD would be some compilation of love songs from the 70s and 80s, and the DVD would be highlights from the history of the Cleveland Browns.
Q: What is the worst lie you've ever told?
A: No way I can answer that.
Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.
A: I've been working at the same desk since I started writing. It's old and beaten-up and black. The rest of my workroom is empty, except for some crazy sh-- on the wall in front of me: pictures of people I admire, reproductions of artwork I dig, sayings that motivate me, things like--bare your soul, be bold, page a day motherfu--er page a day. I listen to music while I work, have a pile of nicotine gum and a couple cans of diet coke. My dogs are usually a couple feet away from me. I've always worked this way, probably always will.
Q: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?
A: "Loved, lost, laughed, left."
Q: Who is the one person living or dead that you would like to have dinner with?
A: Winston Churchill
Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Frey achieves another stylistic coup as he develops a narrative thread begun in 2003's A Million Little Pieces. He chronicles his journey out of the terrifying darkness of addiction, and the friend he meets along the way, Leonard. A gangster, raconteur and mentor, Leonard was introduced in Pieces as one of Frey's new rehab friends. Here, he pushes Frey out into the world, pampering him one moment, giving him tough love the next. As in Pieces, Frey's style throughout is loose, untraditional yet perfectly crafted: "[Leonard] offered me his hand and said good, I'm fucked up too, and I like fucked-up people, let's sit and eat and see if we can be friends. I took his hand and I shook it and we sat down and we ate together and we became friends." There's something mesmerizing about the endless tumble of words, the nonstop spilling out of Frey's troubles and triumphs. In the hands of a less capable writer, all of this cool, tight narration might numb the reader and distance the experience. Instead, this book packs a full-body emotional wallop. Frey's eye is keen for detail: the inside of a county lockup; the flat, gray Chicago winter; an out-of-control Super Bowl party in Los Angeles; the grind of living day to day—all come alive in his sparse, powerful prose. At its core, this is an examination of a friendship. Frey's extraordinary relationship with Leonard is alive, a flesh-and-blood bond forged in the agony of rehab and sustained through honesty and trust. Agent, Kassie Evashevski at Brillstein/Grey Entertainment. (June)
Top customer reviews
What little I did read about the main characters love affair wasn't at all enticing. The only emotion I felt throughout the 130ish pages that I read was sympathy... I know it is very hard living in this world with nothing but the clothes on your back. It was quite odd that his friend just lent him 25,000$- which makes me think that this story was also one of Frey's phonies (A Million Little Pieces turned out to be fictional, although it was supposed to be a memoir, of sorts). I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. Sorry Frey, I wasn't pleased with this one particularly. I tried!
It begins with Frey in jail for a brief period following his completion of drug and alcohol rehab, then getting out of jail and receiving some horrific news (this news is actually revealed in the epilogue of AMLP, but further detail is given in this narrative). In the aftermath of an event that severely rattles James's recently-free-from-jail existence, he comes dangerously close to undoing everything he accomplished in rehab by dealing with extreme temptation to drink again (which would inevitably lead to harder substances). This battle with the harsh echoes of Frey's past addiction are prominent in the first half of the story, and he even keeps a sealed bottle of cheap wine with him at all times as a reminder to not drink; a defiant expression of great willpower to refuse alcohol, even though it is available to him every moment.
Before long, Leonard is introduced: a charming, handsome, mysteriously wealthy fifty-something whom James had met and befriended while they were in rehab together. Leonard seeks Frey out and expresses a desire to `adopt' him in a way; to look out for James and care for him in a father-like relationship. Mind you, Frey is jobless and completely broke upon leaving jail, meanwhile fighting grief and teetering on the edge of falling back into addiction. Leonard has a particular fondness for James, as well as the means to provide for him, so their relationship is taken to a new level which changes James's life in some big ways. Leonard even takes to calling James `My son' for the remainder of the book, and while Frey finds this somewhat silly and strange, he is thankful to have such a generous friend in a dark time.
James makes his way through several ultra low-end jobs, including one as a bouncer at a dive bar. Eventually he is offered a position by Leonard, a position that is very loose and undefined, even a bit shady. James earns a great deal of money by running `errands' for Leonard, though he spends very little of it and does not count his wealth as much.
This description so far probably sounds very simple and rather uninteresting. The narrative is simple, but not in a boring or pointless way. It is, at the heart, the story of a man unfolding and coming to a place where he is finally taking care of himself, growing up, and finding joy in places other than self-destruction. This comes through great pain and loss, but the redemptive quality is thus all the more sweet. This is also the story of a deep and sacred friendship, one that mirrors the best father/son scenario one could imagine.
James Frey's writing is loose and minimalist in the sense that he intentionally excludes most punctuation, save periods and commas, and also utilizes multiple run-on sentences. While these two qualities may sound like simply the bad habits of a lazy writer, they are executed so well that it ends up giving the piece a very stark, human-thought-process sort of realism. When things get intense or very sad and the character smashes four or five sentences into one mad dash, the severity of the moment is felt because that's the way our minds tend to blur everything together under stress. At other points his dialogue is defined by beautiful, subtle honesty, and it is through the conversations in the book (including the ones going on in James's head) that really bring out the true attributes of each character.
My Friend Leonard was an easy read and a poetic delight. The story is plain in subject, but rich in character, delicate observation, and authentic interactions. Like everything I've read from Frey, there is great humor in this story, as well as loss and sadness that are gripping around your heart to rip it violently out of your chest. Again, this is how life is, is it not?
If you've not read A Million Little Pieces, I would recommend being introduced to Frey's work that way, though it is not necessary material to enjoy My Friend Leonard as a stand-alone. Either way, I would highly recommend any and all of his books to any reader with an appreciation for real people going through real circumstances interlaced with lovely prose and keen observation.
Love this book even more than a million pieces! The reason for 4 /5 stas is because he married the neighbor girl! He didn't even explain or go into detail about how and when. Other then that it was perfect.
I do feel bad for his wife though because if she reads this she will read some pretty awful stuff about past gfs
Some of the story gets a tad slow in the middle, but toward the end it does move better. Personally I enjoy James Frey's style of writing although the editor in me kind of gets annoyed with the run on sentences and missing commas and periods, but he is utilizing the same style of storytelling as in 'A Million Little Pieces.' I think that his style had more impact in his first novel rather than in this one, but it's very "him" and I like it.
I was very interested to read about James' life and how he did turn things around for himself and I found myself continuing to be interested throughout 'My Friend Leonard.' I felt all of the emotions he wanted me to feel in the end and I enjoy the fact that James knows how to tell his story in his own words. I like that he touched my heart in his portrayal of Leonard and it almost feels like I knew Leonard myself.
I highly recommend reading this especially if you enjoyed 'A Million Little Pieces' because it just completes his first novel and gives us some closure.