The phrase “post-James Frey” keeps popping up… almost as often, it seems, as “post-9/11” or “post-Cold War.” Whether James Frey’s blending of fact and fiction is actually a before-and-after type of milestone moment is debatable. Consider the case of Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club for example. A quote from a 1997 Salon.com interview:
Salon: I read an interview in which you said that one or two of your father’s “Liars’ Club” stories in your book were, in fact, things you made up.
Mary Karr: They are pure fiction. They are absolutely made up. But they are not represented as truth in the book. I sort of defend doing it that way. They are seen as bullshit, and represented as bullshit in the book.
(There’s something to be said for her defense, but that’s another debatable bit altogether. Incidently, Mary Karr came out as James Frey’s biggest critic…) Or consider Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments. She went on to write what many people consider to be a bible of sorts for nonfiction writing. But recently she admitted to embellishing sections of her book, to the shock of her admirers.
James Frey is not the first, nor will he be the last nonfiction writer that got a little too creative. But the James Frey fallout is undeniable, thus the post- phrase. Maybe we can just say PJF from now on.
As in: PJF, Augusten Burroughs’s new book, a collection of essays rather ironically entitled Possible Side Effects, comes with a disclaimer: “Some of the events described happened as related, others were expanded and changed.” This is hardly surprising, as Burroughs was sued over his Running With Scissors (read details here) so the disclaimer may just be an attempt to prevent that from happening again.
Then again, we are living in a PJF world.