Author James Frey answered audience questions ranging from his literary process and professional motivations to his tattoos and childhood heros during a book discussion at the Saturday evening.
The audience of about 30 also listened to a fan-requested reading from Frey's third book, "The Final Testament of the Holy Bible." the group sought what made the author tick: learning of Frey's childhood idols (that include boxer Marvin Hagler and writer Henry Miller), that he only writes books he knows he will finish, and the course of the brainstorming and research process for his latest book.
Only for a brief moment, however, did Frey directly address the incidents that had spurned controversy and at one time threatened to ruin the author's career. Instead, Frey reflected on his reputation by discussing his relationship with readers and his professional motivations.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be America’s sweetheart, to have a Pulitzer. I wanted to be the most widely read, notorious, infamous writer in the world.”
Five years ago Frey came under public scrutiny after several media outlets challenged the validity of certain scenes in the 2003 memoir "A Million Little Pieces," a story of addiction and recovery. Frey originally claimed only a few minor details were altered, but in a live interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in January 2006 admitted he had fabricated crucial points of the story.
The aftermath included significant media criticism, a Random House settlement refunding readers who felt deceived by Frey's claims, and Frey losing a seven-figure contract with Penguin imprint Riverhead.
As the Amagansett Library audience did not direct questions toward the controversy, Frey only briefly touched on the incident to make a larger point about his connection to his work.
“I write books that interest me,” Frey said. “If they hate it, cool; if they love it, cool; if they don’t care about it; cool.”
Like Frey's reputation, "The Final Testament" is controversial. It is an account of the second-coming of the Messiah, and each chapter is told in a new voice, from a young female Christian fundamentalist to a rabbi, an FBI agent to a homeless cult member.
Frey published his book out of Gagosian Gallery, and only 10,000 of the book are available in print, which are leather bound and cost upwards of $40. Though the book is available electronically Frey claims he was inspired by the art world technique of limiting the creative product.
“This book is exactly what I wanted it to be…how it looks, how it feels.”
During the evening Frey took a took a request from an audience member to read “Matthew,” a story riddled with obscenities, broken grammar and anger recalling of the arrival of the Messiah to a homeless cult living in the underground tunnels of New York City.
When asked why the first-person account took on such a crude persona, Frey simply remarked, “I wrote it that way because that’s the way I thought he would talk.”
Frey, his wife and two sons keep a summer home in Amagansett, and he is an ardent supporter of libraries nationally, and specifically of the Amagansett Library. Frey has made other similar appearances in the last three years and periodically can be seen with his children enjoying the collection.