A Million Little Pieces, Memoir, and Honesty

I was up at 6am today. Not as terrible as 5am, but on labor day, that’s still a pretty crappy time to be awake. I went for another run, followed by some yoga. Then I sat on my patio for a nice breakfast and reading session. I finished The Marriage Plot and was pretty disappointed. I had such high expectations after Middlesex, so my disappointment was inevitable.

I’m trying to find something to read next, which is sort of funny all on its own. About a quarter of the books on my shelf haven’t been read. A customer from the coffee shop I used to work at gave me the The Letters of Anton Chekhov. That seems like a nice thing to read, right? Meh. I went through a phase a few years ago when I was obsessed with Chekhov. I ripped through a collection of his short stories in a week (probably the same week the customer gave me the book), and haven’t picked up a story or play of his since. Had I read his letters right after those short stories, I probably would have gotten some insight into his life and personality, and I probably really would have appreciated it. Now? Nah. I also have the Norton Collection of Personal Essays that I found at a used book store for $7, but I’m trying to stay away from shorter works.

I wandered over to Carissa’s shelves today and found A Million Little Pieces. I don’t know much about the book other than it claimed to be a memoir and ended up being false. Also, something about drugs. And Oprah.

When this book blew up, I wasn’t interested in memoir. I sort of regarded it as a lame fad: just uncreative and self-indulgent people who wanted to write but couldn’t write fiction. I was a Fiction Writer, interested in the construction of character and plot. Then I took a memoir-writing class at UW-Milwaukee and that changed. I realized that my fiction elitism was unwarranted since I was an unrealized memoirist at heart, what with my incessant journaling (I did more digging, my journaling slowed most during my junior and senior years of college). Then I started reading memoirs and essays and found that I loved how truth could be stranger than fiction.

So I have mixed feelings about A Million Little Pieces. Now that I write memoir I’m aware that I have an obligation to be honest. I had a few autobiographical fiction assignments in college, and I was so confused about them. I allowed myself fictional retribution – ending a relationship when I should have, dumping beer on his belongings, wildly advertising his infidelity, slapping him more than just the one time, etc – but it felt sort of dirty. I was telling a story that had its roots in reality, but then ended it falsely. If my ex were to read it, he would surely point out all the fiction, expose me as a fraud, humiliate me, etc. And I would know he was right.  I would face similar consequences if I paraded the story as fiction, only in a weirder inverted way.

If I were to ever share those pieces, I think I would need to preface them with a disclaimer: “The following events are based in reality, though I’ve taken the liberty of replacing certain details and/or the ending with ones preferable to me.” And really, who cares then? The truth probably offers a better story than the one I give anyway. Maybe I’ll clean one up and share it later this week, then you can tell me what you think.

Anyway, reading a fictionalized memoir is going to be an interesting experience. I’m going to have to tell myself it’s a novel if I don’t to feel completely cheated by the end of it.


9 thoughts on “A Million Little Pieces, Memoir, and Honesty

  1. Fictionalized memoirs can be really great – or the ones I’ve read were, at least – so don’t worry too much. Though that’s pointless encouragement as I haven’t read A Million Little Pieces… oh.But I hope you enjoy it 🙂
    Also, your posts about getting up early make me feel guilty that I haven’t seen 6am in about a year :S Think I’ll have to start getting up earlier!

    • To some extent, all memoirs are fictionalized, but I think the fact that Frey was shown to have fabricated some of the details and events in this book makes me wary to really enjoy it.

      I’m about a hundred pages in and so far the style is very distracting. Everything is left justified. Dialogue isn’t marked. Short repetitive sentences. Etc. Also, there’s a dental surgery scene where he doesn’t have any anesthesia and it makes me want to cancel my dentist appointment.

      Anyway, once I’m done reading it, I want to find out what details are false. I’d rather prolong the mystery as long as possible.

      Any other recommendations for fictionalized memoirs? I’m always looking for new titles to read!

  2. I was just going to comment and say “all memoirs are fictionalized” but you beat me to it. 😉

    A recommendation: Mary McCarthy’s Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood.

    • Yeah…I’m kind of surprised I didn’t think to mention that in the original post. Haha.

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll add it to my list. 🙂

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