Theory: Cleveland is the only place James Frey could ever come from. Just look at his story.
Guy rises from a boozing, drug-addled youth and achieves huge success after publishing a memoir. Turns out, the publishers made a controversial call in labeling it “memoir” even though, according toVanity Fair, he asked for it to be called “fiction.” He gets ripped apart by critics and the news media. And just when most people seemingly give up on him, he comes out with a can’t-put-down, clever novel that quickly rises on theNew York Times best-seller list.
Great promise, controversial call, public failure, big hopes rise anew: How many Browns teams does that sound like? Tribe? Heck, even the city followed that same path.
“Being from Cleveland, I’m used to adversity,” Frey says. “I grew up in the era of the Mistake on the Lake.Ooh, the Cuyahoga is burning. I could give a fuck. I’m proud of Cleveland. We’re a tough people. Yeah, we’ve experienced a lot of sorry and a lot of disappointment. So what? Cleveland taught me to get up off my ass and keep fighting.”
But having Oprah Winfrey berate you on her television show? That’s got to be hard to bounce back from, no? “Listen. I’m a writer and writing is my job. Just because you have a bad day or week or month or year at work doesn’t mean you give up. Just because someone ontelevision doesn’t happen to like me anymore doesn’t mean I’m going to quit my job.”
While the news of his making up some of what was billed as his true personal story still swirled, he began writing his next book,Bright Shiny Morning.
He wanted to write an unconventional book about Los Angeles, telling its story through some of its characters. He zooms in on four main stories: a young couple from Ohio trying to make it in California, a drunk obsessed with Chablis, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who pretends to be an illegal alien to get work and a closeted gay Hollywood actor who is married to a closeted lesbian actress.
Instead of the story lines all coming together, or brushing past each other, or having anything to do with each other, their only connection is they are all happening in L.A. They fill out the real main character, which is the city itself. It works.
He sprinkles in “facts” about Los Angeles, about 70 percent of which are true. The fake facts, he says, are a wink to his supporters and a middle finger to his detractors.
Bright Shiny Morning is written in the same style Frey used so masterfully in his earlier works: run-together sentences, no paragraph indentations and dialog without quotation marks.
Frey says he considers this book in the same vein as his others. “My books should all, every single one of them, be considered literature. Literature doesn’t have rules like journalism. And if it does, I don’t give a shit about it.”
He’s trying to change literature. During all the hubbub, he talked to the now-late Norman Mailer, a literary badass if there ever was one. Frey says Mailer helped put things in perspective and taught him to look at the big picture.
“I learned that it doesn’t matter what’s written about you in a newspaper,” Frey says. “What matters is what I write. What matters is if what I put down on a page is any good. What matters is if people read it and for how long they read it. What matters is achievement and excellence and breaking rules and breaking boundaries and going into places where other people don’t go. You have to be willing to take a beating, but the beating is irrelevant if the piece is good enough. The work will endure.”