Thursday, May 07, 2009

James Frey's dubious choice

We'll do a lot for book promotion opportunities . . . but would you write a novel that includes an account of Oprah Winfrey saying compromising things about "some mistakes she made" on tape? That's what James Frey chose to do in the paperback (the hardcover edition omitted the Oprah section) version of Bright Shiny Morning, according to Wednesday's Guardian.

Frey already has incurred the wrath of Oprah Winfrey by admitting that he fabricated certain elements of his Oprah's Book Club pick, A Million Little Pieces. Along with major book sales, he scored an on-air scolding from Oprah, which couldn't have been a whole lot of fun for him.

Is that Oprah addition to Bright Shiny Morning Frey's way of getting the last word in an argument? Maybe, and maybe it even feels good to Frey as though he's "won" -- but, if I were in his position, I wouldn't mess with Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah isn't some sort of a Mafia don, and I'm not suggesting that Frey should be afraid that she'll respond to the accusations against her in his novel by getting one of her producers to leave a horse's head in his bed. But Oprah's voice in literature is a powerful one, for better or worse, and I wouldn't want to hear that voice raised against my work and me, if I were a novelist -- and I wouldn't court Oprah's wrath in an effort to sell more novels. It seems unworthy and cheap.

If Frey is such a brilliant writer (and I wouldn't know first-hand -- I delayed in reading A Million Little Pieces and, once the controversy broke, I decided not to purchase the book at all), then he doesn't need to talk trash about Oprah. And if he isn't as great as he apparently thinks he is, then Frey has no right to invoke Oprah's name (and try to compromise her reputation) to sell copies of his novel. Certainly, he most likely has a legal right to do so (Oprah Winfrey is a public figure, so I'm guessing it's easier to get away with bad-mouthing her than to pick on another, anonymous citizen). But morally, I think Frey is completely unjustified in telling tales about Oprah as part of his book promotion efforts. I'm not sure what James Frey was thinking, but this is the clearest-cut case of "biting the hand that feeds you" I've seen in a long while.