When a person reads a fictional account of a person overcoming a hardship, there is a buffer in the impact such a thing can have. The theme can resonate, can move the reader, can even inspire. But while it is possible for it to make someone change his or her life, it is unlikely. There’s always the knowledge that it’s made up, no different than their own wishes that they could do the same.
When a person reads a memoir, however, that proves something can be overcome, it can provide the “click” the reader needs to take the steps to do the same. Belief is the difference—if the writer can do it, so can the reader. It did happen, so it can happen.
Oprah can imply it’s no big deal because she didn’t have those obstacles to overcome. Yes, the writing was good, and yes, she was moved. But would things have been different if she’d been a cocaine addict and responsible for someone’s death? If someone read A Million Little Pieces and it inspired them to overcome their own addictions and problems, and they’re already past it, that’s great. But what about those who are still struggling? What about someone who is working hard to overcome, and believes so strongly that they can do it because James Frey did, then finds out they were lied to? It’s permission to give up. There’s no point. It can’t happen, because it didn’t happen.
Some might call me melodramatic. They might accuse me of bitterness because of the rumors that he wrote it as fiction and it didn’t sell, so he pitched it as a memoir and it did. I will admit to a little annoyance. I’m a goody-two-shoes and it always bothers me when people get rewarded for doing the things I would never do to get ahead. But his alleged lies don’t affect me at all. They didn’t keep me off the bestseller list and I’m not one of those who would be inspired by his story. I didn’t read it, so there’s not even any personal betrayal.
But this is not a little white lie like telling your girlfriend her dress doesn’t make her look fat. This is bigger and more important than that, and shouldn’t be brushed aside with a “no big deal.”