It takes a bit to get used to James Frey’s memoirs, both typographically and stylistically. None of the paragraphs are indented and quotation marks are not used to delineate speech or conversation. Stylistically, Frey would probably flunk most basic composition classes. Many of his sentences are basically run-on streams of consciousness. But they all add together for some truly great stuff, stuff that ultimately lets you see things through his eyes and his thought processes.
I thought Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was one of the best books of 2003. It was the story of his time in a rehab facility battling the alcoholism and drug addiction that threatened to kill him before age 24. My Friend Leonard is the follow-up to that work. Leonard is an older gentleman with seeming organized crime connections (or as Leonard puts it, he is “the West Coast Director for a large Italian finance firm”) with whom Frey became friends in rehab. Leonard, unmarried and childless, has informally adopted Frey as his son.
The book opens with Frey serving jail time to clear up charges pending against him while he was in rehab. Leonard is one of the centerpieces as Frey tells the story of their on-going friendship, Frey’s life in the years following his release from the rehab center and jail, and the struggles he encounters not only as a recovering alcoholic and addict but with life in general.
Stylistically, My Friend Leonard is much like A Million Little Pieces, although it may not rise to quite the same level of quality in terms of content. That may be because these are memoirs populated with characters and perhaps the people Frey met in everyday life aren’t quite as colorful as those who populate rehab centers nor do they struggle with quite as many demons as Frey’s rehab compatriots. You also have to wonder whether Frey indulges in a little bit of literary license with his life. For example, the end of the book is somewhat difficult to swallow and a variety of episodes make you wonder if the event actually happened or Frey is indulging in some “creative nonfiction” to embellish somewhat more mundane occurrences.
That said, I read the book in the course of one day. Frey truly does take you inside his thought processes. As a result, he not only keeps you interested, he allows you to laugh and cry with him. As such, My Friend Leonard is a worthy companion to A Million Little Pieces. If you’ve read the first memoir, you will like this one. If you’ve read neither, pick them both up and prepare for a fascinating and at times gut-wrenching ride through Frey’s life.
I sit for as long as I can I sit until everything hurts I sit until everything stops hurting I sit until I lose myself in the gray wall I sit until my mind becomes as blank as the gray wall.
James Frey, My Friend Leonard