Saturday, May 06, 2006

Name and fame. Guilt and shame.

It’s befuddling. I’m not entirely sure what the fuss and frothing were all about. Why did Oprah Winfrey who had unabashedly promoted James Frey’s best-selling memoir of “alcohol and drug-induced mayhem”, A Million Little Pieces, fume and fret and go all teary on camera when The Smoking Gun exposed it as mostly fraudulent? Did the self-anointed best-seller-anointer feel duped and debased – after having praised to the skies earlier the graphically coarse and (fake?) ”vomit-caked” account in hyperbolic words such as "like nothing you've ever read before”? And, why did readers sue the memoirist for wasting their time? Tell me, just because you’re buying a book billed ‘memoir’, does it mean that you’ve got yourself guaranteed unvarnished gospel truth? In her piece on the Frey ‘fraud’, Melissa King cites “an old joke”: “An honest country man was serving as a witness in court. He is asked, ‘Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?’ The man sits a minute before looking at the judge and saying, ‘Well, tell me then, man, which one you want?’” He’s right. The oath is totally unrealistic. To my simple way of thinking, truth exists only in the moment. Once that moment is in the past, vitiating influences take over. The raconteur’s memory is not always accurate nor his intention invariably honest. Embellishment is the end of the literal ‘truth’ as we expect it. Capiche? P.S.: By the way, for what it’s worth, A Million Little Pieces sold 1.77 million copies in 2005 after Oprah anointed it. Only Harry Potter pipped it at the post in the Bestseller Stakes, as the Brits would say. Who says real fiction isn’t more appealing that fake fact? P.S.: Now that Viswanathan’s controversial How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, a ‘packaged’ novel, has gone the way of Frey, I wonder why all those concerned in the process of ‘packaging’, editing, publishing and promoting it are not beating their breasts and wailing a dirge. Maybe, the author’s Asian origin is a mitigating – and utterly comforting – factor.

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