from Esquire

“There Is No Truth,” He Said.

The future of the written word, and the liberation of James Frey. With space aliens.

By John H. Richardson

james frey


Illustrations by Nathan Fox


Published in the November 2011 issue

Things start to get weird when Frey locks the door to his office and pulls down the blinds. That’s James Frey, author of the famously fraudulent memoir A Million Little Pieces, a big lug with a shaved head who could pass for a member of the Russian mob — small forehead, big jaw, small pursed mouth constantly chewing gum. I figured he was going to punch me out.

Rule number one in journalism: Don’t call the person you are interviewing a fucking asshole.

What happened is, I was interviewing Frey at his offices in SoHo. The subject was his unusual new publishing business, Full Fathom Five, which was about to release the world’s first e-book with a soundtrack. The soundtrack actually syncs up with how fast you’re reading — music, gunshots, the ardent moans of young lovers. Amazing. Frey made me a cup of cappuccino, asked about my family. But then I had to ask about the three-part Oprah controversy and he started talking about postmodernism and Andy Warhol with the strong suggestion that A Million Little Pieces wasn’t really a giant fraud but some kind of sophisticated performance art. “Anyway, there is no truth,” he said. “It’s all fiction. In my experience, 80 percent of reporters just tell flat-out lies.”

So I said, “A guy who has an affair and his wife asks him if it’s really true and he says, ‘No, but what is reality anyway’ isn’t a sophisticated postmodernist, he’s a motherfucking asshole.”

Frey asked me to step outside.

I stood in the hall talking to his staff and my smartphone started going nuts. He’s about to pull the plug! What the hell is going on? Are you really swearing at him? Step outside and call me! Calm down!

Which, of course, just pisses me off even more. Micromanaging panties-in-a-bunch editors, bane of my existence.

Some time passes. I find that I like Frey’s bright young crew, doubtless brutally exploited. Then Frey opens the door looking even more nauseous than he did when Oprah was carving him a new outlet for his writing. He barks at the staff to clear out and motions me in, locks the door, and pulls down the blinds.

I say, “Look, maybe we got off on the wrong foot. Or in your case, the wrong cloven hoof.”

I’m kidding.

He ignores me. “You want the truth? I’ll show you the fucking truth. See that laptop?”

An ordinary MacBook Pro on the desk, a futuristic matte silver shell.

“Open it.”

I hesitate.

“Trust me.”

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