Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jan 2006
Source: Home News Tribune (NJ)
Copyright: 2006 Home News Tribune
Author: Mara Zukowski
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Millions of Americans are battling addictions. Statistics show, 
however, that only a small percentage of these demon-plagued souls 
will remain drug or alcohol free for a significant length of time.

James Frey's best seller "A Million Little Pieces" is a journey 
through the experience of one man's struggle to break the stronghold 
of such an addiction. In the case of Frey, it was an alcohol 
addiction which began in grade school and soon progressed into a 
dependency on crack cocaine.

The details of Frey's rehabilitation are graphic and frightening. 
Throughout his detoxification, his body suffers constant torment from 
the purging of the residue of the toxins on which he lived for so 
long. When these are finally flushed out of his body, his frail 
skeleton just as violently rejects the wholesome nutrients which he 
voraciously gulps down at each meal.

One of the most unnerving sequences describes the extensive dental 
work performed on him to repair his broken teeth (a result of his 
many bar/drug den fights) and the rest of his decaying and abcessed 
oral cavity. All of this he must endure without anesthesia since he 
is going through rehab at the time. Needless to say, not since the 
film The Marathon Man has there been such a terror producing image of 

But Frey's memoir is so much more than a voyeuristic glimpse of the 
physical and emotional symptomology of withdrawal. It is a brilliant 
analysis of his descent into madness and painfully slow climb out of 
the abyss. His use of rapid fire conversational exchange is jarring 
at first, but it soon becomes apparent that his style of writing 
mirrors his disjointed and intense experience.

But all the way through, the reader can't help but search for an 
explanation. How did this seemingly well-raised, middle-class boy 
become so self-destructive? It is to Frey's credit that he is able to 
unearth the key to the puzzle for himself as well as for his 
audience. The reader will find some satisfaction not only in finding 
a catalyst for Frey's extreme behavior but also in the subtle yet 
effective change in writing style that accompanies his self-revelation.

"A Million Little Pieces" is a literary masterpiece, perhaps not in 
the style of the great classics, but as a cultural Rosetta stone for 
the ennui and despair of the modern age.

Mara Zukowski, 52, lives in South River. 
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