My Friend Leonard
(2005) is the sequel to James Frey's novel/memoir, A Million Little Pieces
, which found Frey entering rehab and struggling with his addiction. My Friend Leonard
picks up as Frey is released from jail and attempts to remain clean. While both books were marketed as memoirs, the facts presented in the books later came into question, and Frey admitted that they contained some fictional material.
As the novel opens, Frey is leaving Ohio county jail where he has been serving a 90-day sentence for crimes he committed while he was an addict. He leaves for Chicago where his girlfriend, Lilly, who lives in a halfway house, is grieving the death of her grandmother. There, he learns that Lilly has committed suicide. Devastated, James buys a bottle of wine and spends the night in his car. He doesn't touch the wine. He decides to ask Leonard if he can have thirty thousand dollars to bury Lilly.
Leonard is an Italian mob boss that James met in a rehabilitation clinic. When James graduated from the rehab program, Leonard told him, "I would like you to be my son," beginning their father-son bond.
Leonard agrees to give James the money under the conditions that James keeps him informed of how he spends the money and that if James is going to fall off the wagon and drink the bottle of wine, he'll call Leonard first. The two grow closer as James meets Leonard's family and attends his elaborate, "clean" parties.
James does mysterious "jobs" for Leonard in which he abandons a car in a mall parking lot and shepherds briefcases from one side of Chicago to another. He makes enough to buy a minor Picasso, a purchase that Leonard encourages.
James begins writing and sells a few scripts. He starts and abandons several relationships. James' relationship with Leonard, however, continues to flourish until he reveals to James that he needs to go into hiding for a while. Disappearing for almost two years, he finally meets up with James in San Francisco. There, James learns that Leonard is gay and suffering from AIDS. James spends Leonard's remaining days with him.
Throughout the story, James deals with criminals and convicts as well as struggling with depression, and his "Fury," the name he has given his addiction urges and his uncontrollable temper. He slowly rebuilds his life as a law-abiding citizen while working as a bouncer at various bars. He succeeds in staying clean.
A bestseller, Amazon.com editors placed My Friend Leonard
fifth on their list of favorite books of 2005. Responses from critics were mostly negative, with Troy Patterson of the New York Times
calling it "slightly less illiterate than A Million Little Pieces
." Many critics note Frey's haphazard use of capitalization, repetition, and "mistrust of commas."
Oprah Winfrey lauded the first book, A Million Little Pieces
, on a show entitled "The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake at Night." Oprah tearfully praised the book as did the employees of her production company. When journalists started investigating the memoir, however, the world learned that Frey fictionalized or embellished much of the book.
Despite threats of litigation, The Smoking Gun
exposed many of Frey's falsehoods. Oprah and Frey's vast readership at first defended his story. Oprah told Larry King that, despite growing evidence, she and her followers "support the book because we recognize that there have been thousands and hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been changed by this book."
In January of 2006, Frey again appeared on Oprah, this time to be chastised for lying to his audience of readers. Frey had sent the manuscript in as fiction and had been rejected multiple times before submitting it as a memoir. "I don't think it is a novel, I still think it's a memoir," he told Oprah. Frey admitted that his 90-day jail sentence never happened and that several of the more memorable parts of the novel (such as undergoing a root canal without pain killers) were pure fiction. He was never involved in a tragic train accident that killed two high schoolers, he never participated in fights with inmates, and he was never wanted in three states.
The first book's publisher, Doubleday, submitted an author and publisher's note to booksellers to be inserted in the novels, but the text was not changed.
In an interview with Larry King, Frey said: "I still stand by the essential truths of the book." He went on to say that the book was subjective and shouldn't be "scrutinized the way a perfect nonfiction document would be or a newspaper article." It has been confirmed that Frey is an alcoholic and drug addict who attended rehab in Minnesota, but other events in the novels are questionable.My Friend Leonard
opens with a disclaimer: "Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed. Some sequences and details of events have been changed."