Books

The Man Who Conned Seattle

A Million Little Pieces Author James Frey's July 2004 Audience Review Filled with Fabrications, Falsehoods, Fakery

The city of Seattle has been had.

A year and a half ago bestselling memoirist James Frey wrote a review of his audience at a reading at University Book Store, published in the July 1, 2004 issue of The Stranger. Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, Ben Marcus, Heather McHugh, Charles D'Ambrosio, and other authors on book tours have written audience reviews for The Stranger, but Stranger books editor Christopher Frizzelle remembers thinking Frey's graphic and coarse audience review was like nothing he'd read before. "I passed it out at the office and all the other editors were reading it," he stated in a recent email. "We all stayed up late at night reading it, and we'd come in the next morning saying, 'What paragraph are you on?'" As that week's issue was being prepared for the printer, Stranger Managing Editor Bradley Steinbacher looked up from the page proofs of the book section and said, "I'm crying because I love this audience review so much."

But a six-month investigation by The Stranger reveals there may be a lot less to love about Frey's powerful audience review, published in an issue of The Stranger so popular that between 200,000 and 300,000 readers read the hardcopy edition, according to Stranger circulation director Kevin Shurtluff, and thousands more read it online.

Hotel records, empty coffee cups, interviews with a baby named Isabelle, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's audience review. The 36-year-old author wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported reading, his history with Seattle, his flight from Portland, his lunch with Amazon.com executives, his consumption of "fucking good coffee," his enjoyment of a college softball game between LSU and Michigan on TV, his experience with a malady he termed "sausage finger," and his interactions with the aforementioned baby named Isabelle.

Frey began the audience review by disclosing that he had once lived in Seattle. His first sentence: "From January to June of 1999, my residence was a hotel in Seattle." This is a flagrant lie. There were no hotels in Seattle in 1999. He continued, "It rained the first 86 days," another blatant liberty, as it hasn't rained in the Pacific Northwest since Imperial Russia sent Vitus Bering to the region in the 1740s. Before writing his memoir A Million Little Pieces, Frey wrote, he had been in the film industry, and he had come to Seattle "to produce a movie"—which according to him was "an absolute disaster"—but a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Music & Film has just confirmed that no one has ever produced a movie in Seattle. Frey ended the first paragraph of his audience review by recalling the end of his previous so-called residency in Seattle: "When it was finally time to go, I was very fucking happy to leave, and I didn't want to ever come back."

The second paragraph began: "At 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 27, 2004, I boarded a plane in Portland bound for Sea-Tac." The fabrication in this sentence is so glaring as to be egregious, as Portland does not have an airport. "I slept during the flight," he wrote, amplifying the fabrication because, without an airport, there could not have been a flight, "got off the plane, found my driver, started toward my hotel. As we drove in, it started raining." This was another falsehood since, again, it hasn't rained in the Pacific Northwest since it rained on Vitus Bering.

The "college softball game between LSU and Michigan" he claims to have watched cannot have occurred as Frey described because neither LSU nor Michigan have college softball, and, moreover, if either school ever did have college softball no one would ever go to the trouble to broadcast it. Also, the "fucking good coffee" Frey purported to have drunk was actually, according to the barista who served it and who went on record exclusively with The Stranger last week, chai. In reference to a lunch Frey purported to have had with Amazon.com executives, Frey wrote, "The Amazon folk were smart, cool, funny," which is clearly not true, and he wrote that after the lunch he reunited with an old friend who now has a baby, "a sweet little girl named Isabelle." In an exclusive interview with Isabelle, The Stranger has learned that she is neither "sweet" nor "little," nor does she believe herself to be a "girl," but rather a boy trapped in a girl's body.

Frey wrote that the traffic on the way to his reading at University Book Store was "the worst I have seen in any city in the country," which can't have been true since by 2004 Seattle was the car-free, bike-filled, monorail-equipped city it is today, and because Frey never actually traveled to University Book Store at all. "He never showed up," Stesha Brandon, University Book Store's events coordinator, has confirmed. "He is an alcoholic and a drug addict and a criminal."

Stranger readers calling The Stranger's customer-service line to complain about the fraudulent audience review will be given a full refund on the price of the July 1, 2004 issue.

editor@thestranger.com
 

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