Friday, September 14, 2007

The Myth About Facts

It's an interesting paradox that in a culture hooked on the value of fact over fiction, there's a tendency not to allow certain facts to get in the way of a nice juicy story, especially if it involves a scapegoat to get everyone else off the hook.

This morning the Guardian prints an article by Suzanne Goldenberg reporting that James Frey is now to publish a novel as a novel, and not (as with his previous book) as a memoir. Not so long ago, the very same paper published a long profile of James Frey by Laura Barton, in which Frey claimed that he had never intended his first book as a memoir, but was pressured by publisher responses to sell it as such. Many authors would have recognized from personal experience - as indeed did the Bitch - a situation which is becoming all too familiar. After I wrote about it, an agent commented thus on my post:
As an agent, I feel quite strongly that Frey was shafted by his publisher and agent. Not only must they have known that embellishment was going on, they *did* know - I met an editor at Doubleday who told me, prior to the book's Oprah laurels, that he was sure some of the book wasn't true. It is deeply disingenuous of the professionals closely involved in the book's publication to claim they were duped by Frey, ruthless of them to drop him, and deeply immoral for them to continue to profit from the discredited works which they are merrily doing.
Yet this statement and Frey's Guardian claim are still apparently out of the equation, and the assumption that Frey simply and deceitfully duped his publishers, as well as the public, persists. Today's Guardian article replicates that version wholesale, damningly referring to 'his deceptions'. Goldenberg makes much of the fact that Frey made personal apologies on both the Oprah Winfrey show and in a new edition of the book, but to take that at face value is to show a monumental naivite, and to underestimate the vulnerability and powerlessness of authors. James Frey would not be the first author to be forced to issue a public apology for something for which he/she was not solely responsible - the Bitch is one, for a start, and her publisher was nothing like as powerful as Frey's - and to comply out of sheer dread of being dropped.

Funny how, in a world hooked on facts, some of the facts seem too slippery to hold. Seems then they need to be stated over and over again.
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