At 23, James Frey had already been a drunk for over a decade, was addicted to crack, wanted in several states, subject to fits of violent Fury, a battered mess. Without knowing how, he ended up in a rehab center in Minnesota. A Million Little Pieces (Doubleday, 2003) is the harrowing and heart-rending story of his recovery and restoration to normal life. Written in a taut, lyrical, and thoroughly unsentimental prose, Frey’s book is filled with sharply observed characters, and captures the rage, self-hatred, and hopelessness of addiction. It is not a book for the squeamish; Frey has, for instance, developed a remarkable range of vivid descriptions of vomit. Nor is it a Christian book. Frey is redeemed through the love and care of the pathetic and beautiful Lily, another patient at the center, and through reading a copy of the Tao te Ching that his brother gives him. It is, however, very definitely an unforgettable book that puts the reader fully on the inside of a terribly damaged life.

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