A Million Little Pieces

by James Frey, appearing at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, Wednesday May 26, 7:30 pm

T wenty-three-year-old James Frey woke from his blackout with a broken nose, four missing teeth, and a hole the size of a quarter through one cheek. He was on a plane, and had no memory of the two weeks previous and no idea where he was going. His parents met him on the ground, having received a 4 am phone call from a hospital where he had been taken after falling face-first down a fire escape.

A Million Little Pieces is Frey's acclaimed and brutally honest account of his journey to sobriety.

An alcoholic for 10 years and a crack addict for three, Frey would started drinking daily as soon as he woke up, and keep drinking until he passed out. He used cocaine daily as well, used anything he could get his hands on: Pills, acid, mushrooms, meth, PCP, and glue. At the northern Minnesota rehab facility where Frey spent six weeks, a doctor's preliminary evaluation revealed that he would literally die if he drank or used drugs again.

At the book's beginning, Frey is antisocial and stubborn to the point of caricature, and herein lies one of the book's triumphs--as he slowly changes and establishes a connection to himself and the world, his language and tone slowly and seamlessly change, too. Frey has an amazing ability to recapture and describe the minute horror of his experiences, one vivid example being his dentist's visit soon after checking in. Because he's detoxing, he's not allowed any anesthetic or pain killers, and, held to the chair by a nylon strap thick enough to restrain a bull, Frey survives two root canals, a cavity drilled and filled, and four caps on his front teeth. And that gruesome and vividly described scene hints at the reserves of strength that finally make his recovery possible.

A Million Little Pieces is emotionally true, disarming, and immediate, involving the reader completely. It also makes clear that the word "heartbreaking" is absolutely overused. But it truly is heartbreaking, and also wonderful, grueling, insightful, and triumphant, getting at the tragedy and repercussions of addiction without ever being moralistic or pedantic. ERIN ERGENBRIGHT

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