An online publication has alleged that James Frey's best-selling memoir about substance abuse, "A Million Little Pieces," wildly exaggerates his past, with inflated claims about his criminal record and about his involvement in an accident that killed two high school students.
"Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's book," according to an article posted Sunday on thesmokinggun.com.
Frey, whose memoir became a huge hit after Oprah Winfrey selected it last fall for her book club, has threatened to sue The Smoking Gun. His lawyer, Martin D. Singer, was not immediately available for comment Monday.
The book's hardcover publisher, Doubleday, and paperback publisher, Anchor, said in a joint statement Monday, "We stand in support of our author, James Frey, and his book which has touched the lives of millions of readers." A spokeswoman for Frey, Jennifer Hayman, referred to the publishers' statement when asked for comment by The Associated Press.
Frey was interviewed by The Smoking Gun and "did, for the first time, admit that he had embellished central details of his criminal career and purported incarceration for `obvious dramatic reasons' in the nonfiction work," according to the publication.
"He also admitted to taking steps, around the time `A Million Little Pieces' was published in hardcover in 2003, to legally expunge court records related to the seemingly most egregious criminal activity of his lifetime."
The memoir has captivated millions of readers, including Winfrey, with its story of violence, addiction and recovery. Much of this is questioned by The Smoking Gun, notably a 1986 car wreck in Michigan's St. Joseph Township that killed Jane Hall and Melissa Sanders, fellow students of Frey's at St. Joseph High School.
In Frey's book, he writes that he was close friends with "Michelle" (which, he acknowledged to The Smoking Gun, was a pseudonym for Sanders) and had been with her on the night of the accident. Sanders had been asked out by another student, Dean Sperlik, but, fearing she wouldn't be allowed, told her parents that she was going to the movies with Frey.
At the movies, he recalls, Sanders met up with Sperlik, who drove off with Sanders (Hall is not mentioned in the book), only to be slammed by an oncoming train at the railroad crossing. Sanders was killed and Sperlik was seriously injured.
As the person who enabled Sanders to be out that night, Frey says he was questioned by police and recalls being blamed for the tragedy by Sanders' parents and by her friends. "I took a lot of punches ... and every time I threw a punch back, and I threw one back every single time, I threw it back for her," he writes.
But his memories were disputed — by the police report, by the chief police investigator and by Sanders' parents, both of whom could not recall his being close to Melissa, being with her that night or being blamed for the accident.
"Everything that I believe he wrote, even about my daughter ... was not an actual, the way the accident happened or anything," Marianne Sanders told The Smoking Gun. "I never heard his name in connection with it."
Other memoirs have been disputed in recent years, including "Fragments of a Childhood 1939-1948," a Holocaust memoir by Binjamin Wilkomirski, and Tony Hendra's "Father Joe," about the author's troubled past and the priest who helped him recover. Publishers have acknowledged they don't fact check memoirs, relying instead on the author.
Frey recently signed a two-book deal with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). The executive editor at Riverhead, Sean McDonald, also edited Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" at Doubleday. McDonald did not immediately return messages from the AP seeking comment.
Frey, who also wrote the memoir "My Friend Leonard," is scheduled to release a novel with Riverhead in fall 2007.