James Frey's Never-Ending Soap Oprah

By Benjamin Fairway 04/27/11

Five years ago, Oprah Winfrey nearly drove the much-maligned author of A Million Little Pieces to drink. He recently went back on her show for a re-match. But The Fix got to him first.

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Boiled, Not Frey'd: The author, photographed by Terry

James Frey is many things to many people: a role model to some, a fraud to others. Say what you will about the 41-year-old provocateur—and everyone has—but Frey's bestselling book, A Million Little Pieces, blasted addiction onto the front pages in a way unheard of since the days of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. The ensuing Oprah-generated firestorm about the fractured facts of the memoir transformed Frey from a recovery hero to persona non grata in the American literary world almost overnight. But the author didn't let the scandal keep him down. Five years later, after publiushing another  best-selling novel, a number one New York Times-selling young adult novel (which was turned into a $128-million grossing movie) and a book production company, he’s back to raise more hackles with The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, a new novel released on Easter that features a bisexual drug-loving Jesus, alive and living in a tiny Manhattan apartment. Reviews of his new book have been quite polarized, as they always are. But the rabble-rouser doesn’t seem too perturbed. Now that he and Oprah are all squared up, the controversial writer returned to Oprah's couch yesterday. But first he spoke to The Fix about God, A.A. and the role addiction continues to play in his life.

Some people have an issue with your portrayal of Jesus as a drug user, but we know he regularly drank wine. What’s the difference?

There isn’t any difference as far as I'm concerned.

You became the poster child for addiction and then, just as quickly, were branded an outlaw by many people in the addiction community. Do you feel any strong connection to other addicts and alcoholics? Or do you view them as you would anyone else?

I have a lot of friends who are in recovery, and some friends who aren’t. I don’t choose my friends based on their addictions, but I do think it’s a good idea for me to have a few people around me who are clean. On bad days there are things I can talk about with them that they will understand in ways people who haven’t been addicted wouldn’t.

After your upbraiding by Oprah, you must have been in lot of stress. Were you ever tempted to blot out your anxiety with alcohol or drugs?

Sure. I  was definitely tempted. I  craved some escape from that experience, some way to dull the pain I was feeling. But  I also realized that using again would just make things worse for me. It would only hurt me in the end. So rather than getting wasted, I reached out to some friends during that period, and they got me through that whole awful period pretty much unscathed.

Has your own experience with addiction affected the way you raise your kids?

I’ll tell them about my issues with drugs and alcohol so they’re aware of them, and help them if they ever need me to. But the truth is, kids don't listen to their parents about these things. They need to find out on their own.

What do you think of the spiritual aspect of A.A.?

I'm not a particularly spiritual guy.But to each their own.

In A Million Little Pieces, you defied the A.A.-God-will-save-you philosophy the rehab tried to force on you, angering many who embrace that path. Now you’ve crafted a Jesus that’s a bisexual hipster. Do you have any spiritual beliefs? Do you believe in God?

I do not believe in God. I respect people who have faith, though, and I admire them. There are plenty of days when I wish I had some faith because it must make life a beautiful thing.

You’re managed to stay sober for nearly two decades. What's helped you resist temptation?

I didn't want to destroy myself or my life. Ultimately, that’s the only end result of using.

What’s the single thing in your life that you’re most proud of?

My kids.

For addicts uncomfortable with the A.A. ethos where else is there to turn?

Wherever they find something that helps. You can find your own path to recovery from this thing. You just need to be willing to stop.

Do you think addicts share certain qualities of character?

We all feel things deeply. We all have trouble dealing with those feelings.

Do you think addiction is a physical disease or a psychological disorder?

I don’t really know. It’s different for different people. If there were an answer to that question, it would definitely make treating this disease a lot easier. But nobody has figured it out yet.

Why do you think so many creative people are often addicts or alcoholics?

Because we feel things deeply, which is one of the reasons we are creative, and sometimes those feelings are difficult to deal with and understand, and chemicals make them manageable for a time. Inevitably, though, the chemicals feed the feelings, make them worse, and then they start off this miserable cycle.

Are you worried about what kind of reaction you'll receive as a result of your book?

I hope readers dig it. I hope it moves them, and changes something in them. If that happens I’ll be happy. I'll be okay in any case.

Do you just like stirring shit?

I don't like stirring shit just for the sake of stirring shit. I just don’t like living by rules that don’t make sense to me.

Benjamin Fairway is a freelance writer in New York City.

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