One might have called My Friend Leonard
the long-awaited or loudly-heralded memoir sequel to James Frey's A Million Little Pieces
had Oprah been a bit quicker to smile so beneficently upon Frey's first book. As it stands, A Million Little Pieces
, James Frey's memoir of drug and alcohol treatment, became Amazon.com's top seller two days after being chosen by television's patron saint of literature for her book club in September 2005, and sales of My Friend Leonard
certainly haven't suffered as a result.
As you might expect, the story of the aftermath of Frey's stint in rehab packs less of a punch than the chronicle of his days in a well-known Minnesota drug and alcohol treatment center. After all, when we first met James Frey on page one of A Million Little Pieces
, he's minus a few front teeth, sporting a large hole in one of his cheeks and a broken nose as he emerges from an alcoholic blackout in the back of a passenger plane taking him to he has no idea where.
My Friend Leonard
opens with Frey in similarly desperate circumstances:
"On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hit me in the back of the head with a metal tray. I was standing in line for lunch and I didn't see it coming. I went down. When I got up, I turned around and I started throwing punches. I landed two or three before I got hit again, this time in the face. I went down again."
In fact, the first couple of chapters of My Friend Leonard
are absolutely heartbreaking, though I'll refrain from going into details here. The memoir revolves around the struggles faced by Frey upon his release from rehab. As Frey tells us repeatedly in A Million Little Pieces
, he is "an alcoholic, a drug addict, and a criminal." His challenge now is to reforge his relationship to the world ad to those who dwell therein.
One of the people Frey has no problem dealing with is his friend from rehab, Leonard, the "West coast director of a large Italian finance firm." In this memoir, Leonard jets in and out of Frey's world, offering fatherly advice and plenty of financial support. Leonard is an older man who appreciates the finer things in life, and though he has risen to a high station in a viciously criminal institution, we learn that he's not merely sensitive, but painfully conflicted about who he is. In short, despite Leonard's professional affiliations, we like him.
Title aside, My Friend Leonard is not about Leonard. It's about James Frey. It's about how Frey eases back into the "normal" world slowly, deliberately, fearfully. It's about the ascetic life he adopts - Thoreau in Chicago with an austere living space, bare essentials, endless meditative walking and impossible solitude in a city of millions. It's about Frey's relationship to work, to friends, to lovers. It's all about learning to live, learning to love - lessons that Frey earlier eschewed in favor of alcohol and drugs.
In A Million Little Pieces
, Frey laid bare the soul of an addict for all to see in his riveting account of what it's like to climb naked from the black hole of addiction. In My Friend Leonard
, we get to revisit the author to see what it's like to try to glue all of those million little pieces back together again. Frey is similarly unyielding in his honesty and equally loathe to pretty-up his prose with the likes of punctuation, sentence structure. My Friend Leonard
is less of a rocket ride and more of a methodical white-knuckled plod in the addict's shoes - heartbreaking, occasionally funny, largely uncomfortable, but almost as necessary for thos of us who followed Frey through his excruciating first memoir as it is for Frey, himself.