James Frey discusses new book
NEW CANAAN — For James Frey, the controversial author who has lived in town for five years, there is no middle ground. He wants his readers to have a strong reaction to what he writes.
“Before I became a writer, I had these lofty and idiotic goals. The biggest of them was to become the most controversial, most polarizing, most divisive, most notorious writer in the world,” Frey, 49, said at the New Canaan Library before describing authors whom he admired, like Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and James Joyce.
Frey had arrived from Portland earlier that day, from a tour to promote his new novel, “Katerina,” that takes place in 1992 Paris and present-day Los Angeles.
Though asked to read a few pages from the new book, Frey went straight to taking questions from the audience, which ranged from a variety of topics, including writing style, the editing process and influential works and even the current state of politics in an expletive-laden conversation.
“I wanted (my style) to be absolutely singular, absolutely unique. I wanted it to move fast and I wanted for when it hit you, to hit you hard. Finding all of those things took a long time. Once I found them, writing ‘A Million Little Pieces’ was labor, but it wasn’t the struggle that it had been for years previous,” Frey said, interrupted by applause from some people in the crowd at the mention of his 2003 book.
Frey rose to stardom over 10 years ago following the publication of “A Million Little Pieces,” which was promoted as a memoir about his alcohol and drug rehabilitation that earned a spot in Oprah’s book club in 2005.
By 2006, Frey was accused of fabricating certain parts of the book. He subsequently admitted to have “embellished many details about my past experiences” in a note to readers that same year.
The value of his work, however, still resonates with readers. A woman in the front row said she was thankful for Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” which helped her get through her own rehabilitation process.
The 2003 book was released as a big-screen adaptation on Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars actors including Billy Bob Thornton and Charlie Hunnam.
Regarding his move to New Canaan, Frey said, “I wanted to live somewhere where I could walk and see the stars and breathe and stand on a soccer field and not be James Frey, but to just be another dude standing there,” Frey said.
Some of the people in the audience hadn’t read Frey’s earlier work, but were enthralled by friends’ recommendations or the setting of the new book.
“I heard the book was about Paris, and it sounded like a nice story. I really like Paris and I thought I’d check it out,” Sheila Finnegan, a local resident, said. “The library always has some nice events.”
Around 90 people attended the discussion, which was sponsored by the library in partnership with Elm Street Books.
“It was a very interesting event,” said Cynthia Brown, a photographer and potter in New Canaan. “I’m also an artist and it was interesting to hear about how important the arts are to him.”
James Frey promoted his new book “Katerina” at the New Canaan Library last week.