By the time James Frey was 14, he was a drunk. By 23 he was a crackhead and an indiscriminate ingester of any other controlled substance he could get his hands on. Sheer force of will and dumb luck kept him alive: at the beginning of his new memoir, A Million Little Pieces (Doubleday), he wakes up on a plane covered in blood, piss, and barf, with several of his teeth missing and no idea where he’s headed. What’s brought this nice white boy from Cleveland to the precipice of catastrophe? Nothing extraordinary: He’s furious at his overprotective parents. He’s devastated at being abandoned by a girlfriend. He’s bored. The book, most of which chronicles his time at Minnesota’s Hazelden rehab center, ruthlessly strips addiction and recovery of its attendant romanticism–the first few chapters are chock-full of violent descriptions of his daily bouts of vomiting. And as he detoxes, Frey rejects the conventional wisdom that addiction is a disease: he chose to get fucked-up, he hollers, and now he’ll just have to choose not to. Frey writes like a rhino on crystal meth, liberally punctuating his stampeding prose with obscenities and the random capitalization of Important Nouns. The book leaves a few stones unturned–while he accepts the egalitarian premise of rehab, that rich and poor and white and black are all equal in the eyes of their shared demons, he sidesteps the fact that his most successful fellow travelers are the ones with the most money. But, to his credit, Frey is honest about his own failings and his privilege, and seems well aware that the same single-minded machismo that made him such a good addict is also what will keep him clean. Frey reads from A Million Little Pieces Monday, April 21, at 7 PM at Transitions Bookplace, 1000 W. North, 312-951-7323, and Tuesday, April 22, at 7:30 PM at Barbara’s Bookstore in Oak Park, 1100 Lake, 708-848-9140.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stuart Hawkins.