James Frey is originally from Cleveland. He is also the author of
My Friend Leonard
. He is married and lives in New
1. A Million Little Pieces presents some
unusual formal innovations: Instead of using quotation marks, each
piece of dialogue is set off on its own line with only occasional
authorial indications of who is speaking; paragraphs are not
indented; sentences sometimes run together without punctuation; and
many passages read more like poetry than prose. How do these
innovations affect the pace of the writing? How do they contribute
to the book''s rawness and immediacy? How is James Frey''s
unconventional style appropriate for this story?
2. A Million Little Pieces is a nonfiction
memoir, but does it also read like a novel? How does Frey create
suspense and sustain narrative tension throughout? What major
questions are raised and left unresolved until the end of the book?
Is this way of writing about addiction more powerful than an
objective study might be?
3. Why does the Tao Te Ching speak to James so
powerfully? Why does he connect with it whereas the Bible and
Twelve Steps literature leave him cold? How is this little book of
ancient Chinese wisdom relevant to the issues an addict must
4. James is frequently torn between wanting to look into his own
eyes to see himself completely and being afraid of what he might
find: "I want to look beneath the surface of the pale green and see
what''s inside of me, what''s within me, what I''m hiding. I start
to look up but I turn away. I try to force myself but I can''t" [p.
32]. Why can''t James look himself in the eye? Why is it important
that he do so? What finally enables him to see himself?
5. When his brother Bob tells James he has to get better, James
replies, "I don''t know what happened or how I ever ended up like
this, but I did, and I''ve got some huge fucking problems and I
don''t know if they''re fixable. I don''t know if I''m fixable" [p.
131]. Does the book ever fully reveal the causes of James''s
addictions? How and why do you think he ended up "like this"?
6. Why are James and Lilly so drawn to each other? In what way
is their openness with each other significant for their
7. Joanne calls James the most stubborn person she has ever met.
At what moments in the book does that stubbornness reveal itself
most strongly? How does being stubborn help James? How does it hurt
or hinder him?
8. The counselors at the clinic insist that the Twelve Steps
program is the only way addicts can stay sober. What are James''s
reasons for rejecting it? Are they reasons that might be applicable
to others or are they only relevant to James''s own personality and
circumstances? Is he right in thinking that a lifetime of "sitting
in Church basements listening to People whine and bitch and
complain" is nothing more than "the replacement of one addiction
with another" [p. 223]?
9. What are the sources of James''s rage and self-hatred? How do
these feelings affect his addictions? How does James use physical
pain as an outlet for his fury?
10. How is Frey able to make the life of an addict so viscerally
and vividly real? Which passages in the book most powerfully evoke
what it''s like to be an addict? Why is it important, for the
overall impact of the book, that Frey accurately convey these
11. When Miles asks James for something that might help him,
James thinks it''s funny that a Federal Judge is asking him for
advice, to which Miles replies: "We are all the same in here. Judge
or Criminal, Bourbon Drinker or Crackhead" [p. 271]. How does being
a recovering addict in the clinic negate social and moral
differences? In what emotional and practical ways are the
friendships James develops, especially with Miles and Leonard,
crucial to his recovery?
12. James refuses to see himself as a victim; or to blame his
parents, his genes, his environment, or even the severe physical
and emotional pain he suffered as a child from untreated ear
infections for his addictions and destructive behavior. He blames
only himself for what has happened in his life. What cultural
currents does this position swim against? How does taking full
responsibility for his actions help James? How might finding
someone else to blame have held him back?
13. Bret Easton Ellis, in describing A Million Little
Pieces, commented, "Beneath the brutality of James Frey''s
painful process, there are simple gestures of kindness that will
reduce even the most jaded to tears." What are some of those
moments of kindness and compassion and genuine human connection
that make the book so moving? Why do these moments have such
14. In what ways does A Million Little Pieces
illuminate the problem of alcohol and drug addiction in the United
States today? What does Frey''s intensely personal voice add to the
national debate about this issue?