The Frey Continues---What A Story! (And A Postscript About Empathy and Phony Indians)
(originally posted Jan. 27)
Volume 1: Into the Frey.
A previously unpublished writer tries to sell his self-help novel and ends up getting it published as a memoir. In his book, the man called Frey confesses to, well everything that Augustine does in his Confessions---all the sins and mis-spent youth (for similiar before-and-after, add the Buddha, St. Paul, Thomas Merton, Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, etc.) but to the max: selfishiness, drunkenness, drug addiction, violence, jail, a lover's tragedy, another lover' tragedy when his girlfriend commits suicide on the VERY DAY they are to be reunited when he's released from jail--it's got everything! It's got sure fire success because it's got TOO MUCH of everything (gotta stand out in the crowd of incest victims, abuse victims, and vice versa and etc.).Yes! It's sin, sorrow, Conversion, Suffering and the Big Redemption.
Which leads to Oprah and her book club, and the books are selling like---well, like Oprah's book club books sell. Only MORE. BIGGER. The author Frey himself gets on Oprah and basks in the sunshine of her approval. The book is powerful, because It's All True. The hero has returned from his quest to share his wisdom with his people.
But just when the hero is about to stride off into the sunset, the dirty smut peddling Internet Enemy shows up, and calls out the golden boy. Says he's a liar, big time. My gosh. What will happen next?
Volume 2: The Frey Strikes Back
Frey defends himself at the broadcast court of Larry the King. He admits there's maybe a fib here and there, but nothing important to the Story. The Story is True.
He sits on the other side of that vast expanse of table, not with his lawyer or even his editor, but with his Mom. Character witness. So Mom is there to support his claim-- no the boy wasn't a suburban wuss whose jail time added up to a few hours in the suburban police facility waiting for ride, he was a drug-addicted, violent drunken bad-ass, Mom believe him and she couldn't be prouder.(Where was she at the time anyway? Sorry--not part of The Story.)
But Mom's testimony is not as important as Oprah's. Her surprise, unsolicited call--swooping in like the Millennium Falcon to save Luke's ass---tells the world that maybe he did fib a little but his Story was important to people--the Redemption! The Redemption!
But just as it looked as if our hero had escaped the jaws of certain death again, and well before he could ascend the stage for his medals while singing his theme song, Who's a-Freyed of a Million Little White Lies?.....
Volume 3: Revenge of the FreyedNow there's Oprah on her own show, with the erstwhile Hero and his Adviser (not his Mom this time, but his editor!) --but not for praise! No no no! Reversal of fortune! Sudden and Devastating!
Oprah with her flashing furious eyes. Oprah who says she is "humiliated." Oprah apologizes for her witness to the King. She gave the impression that the Truth does not matter. She has Guests, Important Heads all, all of whom intone, the Truth Does So Matter.
The hero is there, no more a hero. He looks terrified, frightened, a-freyed. But Oprah the Prosecutor presses him--is this true? Is that true? (The girl didn't really commit suicide on the day you didn't get out of jail, didn't she? Or did she?) Not even Frey knew for sure. Did he REALLY have a tooth pulled without novocaine? He really, truly, honestly...couldn't remember.
The audience BOOED. The mob has made him, the mob has turned against him! What irony! What television!
The Jimmy Hoffa defense doesn't wash. Nobody likes that dishonest fifth amendment anyway. Come on, the whole Redemption thing loses its punch if he didn't feel REAL PAIN ( or is that Reel Pain??) as that "wisdom" tooth came screaming out by the roots. I guess.
Anyway, the hero is brought down. He is stung with the whips of scorn, crucified on national TV! So now it's the Hollywood story---the struggle, the rise, the triumph, the fall. What could possibly be next?Come on. You know what's next. Resurrection!
And it begins with: gee, I've really learned my lesson this time. Some say Oprah smiled her forgiveness, others that she indicated her satisfaction, though with what, no one can yet say.
But let's not get carried away. Resurrection---not too many can pull that off. And this tattered and Freyed copy of a writer--convicted of overweening Ambition, Greed, and pathological Lying--is not a likely candidate. He may end his days drinking with Jason Blair.
No, Volume 4 may not be The Frey-Shammed Resurrection. It may be more like: oh no, over my dead body! They are not getting the money back! The Frey Fugitive: Escape to the Freyman Islands! Which at the moment he could afford. Stay tuned!
But don't hold your breath.
Addendum: Beyond what this all says about greed and credulity and uncertain reading skills, there's another issue better highlighted by a somewhat similiar case: several books purporting to be by a Navajo named Nasdijj, another suffering and redemption narrative, this time about harsh life on the reservation.
It turns out there is no Nasdijj, and the books were written by a white man nowhere near the reservation, described as "a semi-successful gay porn writer" in the same online piece that quotes Sherman Alexie, an actual Native American who is a distinguished and excellent writer (and caught on to Nasdijj as a phony early on, but couldn't get anyone to believe him) stating an essential point about all this: "The backbone of multicultural literature is the empathy of its audience--their curiosity for the condition of a group other than themselves. Nasdijj is taking advantage of that empathy."
This is a vital feature of not only multicultural but all literature. Keeping faith with the reader is a precondition of empathy. And empathy is one of the major social functions of literature, especially in relation to the needs of the future.