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MY FRIEND LEONARD by James Frey Kirkus Star


by James Frey

Pub Date: June 16th, 2005
ISBN: 1-57322-315-8
Publisher: Riverhead

A story of post-rehab, post-prison that’s about as comforting as a sawn-off shotgun with a dark angel in attendance.

“I have spent twenty-three years destroying myself and everything and everyone around me and I don’t want to live that way anymore,” writes Frey (A Million Little Pieces, 2003). He isn’t blowing smoke. We meet him, an alcoholic and a drug addict, just as he’s finishing a little stint in prison. He has survived, and that is what he intends to keep on doing, though his personal Furies—fortified wine and crack—rarely give him a moment’s peace, and his delicate-as-porcelain love, Lilly, hanged herself in despair just hours before his release (she, too, was trying to simply survive, living in a half-way house: “She wanted to go to college . . . she had seven books, all textbooks,” Frey writes, tearing your heart out). With a fortitude that is a wonder to behold, Frey maintains his sobriety, taking menial jobs because he hasn’t exactly got a sparkling resume. He also has a friend in Leonard, his mobster guardian, who gets Frey hooked up with some better paying gigs (illegal and thus another problem) and who’s always there to steer Frey clear of intoxicants and toward the simple pleasures, like good food and Cuban cigars. Frey works at longer-term commitments, but the hurt of Lilly’s loss keeps him hesitant. He focuses instead on writing—who’d have thought? But the fruits are here to witness: a fine, grim tale, full of smarting immediacy, with stylistic tics—repetitions, an aversion to commas, run-ons—that skip close to the irritating but lend a musicality and remind the reader to pay attention: “I finish and I take a deep breath it has been a long night I’m worried about Lilly.” The anguish is only beginning.

A small fortune could be made by bottling this story and selling it as an antidote to self-pity. Frey will have to settle for the small fortune it will make in big sales.