Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Genre of This Book Is Legally Binding

James Frey is giving people their money back.

James Frey, the author who admitted making up portions of his best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” and his publisher, Random House, have agreed in principle on a settlement with readers who filed lawsuits claiming they had been defrauded.

Neither Mr. Frey nor Random House are admitting any wrongdoing, but consumers who bought the book on or before Jan. 26 — when both the publisher and author released statements acknowledging that Mr. Frey had altered certain facts — will be eligible for a full refund, said a person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement still has to be approved by a judge.

Readers in several states, including New York, California and Illinois, filed lawsuits saying that Mr. Frey and the publisher had defrauded them by selling the book as a memoir rather than as a work of fiction.

In June the cases were consolidated to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Under the terms of the agreement, which has been accepted by 10 of the 12 plaintiffs who are part of the consolidated case, both Mr. Frey and Random House will pay out no more than a total of $2.35 million, which includes the cost of refunding customers, lawyers’ fees for both sides and a yet-to-be-specified donation to charity. (link)

It would have been interesting to see this go to court. Frey could actually make a good poststructuralist defense: "your honor, since as Paul de Man has pointed out, no autobiography is ever truly authentic, no memoir can ever be required to be verifiably, absolutely 'true.' The truth claimed by the generic category 'memoir' is simply a dubious extension of the Foucauldian 'author-function,' in which the book stands in metonymically for its 'author.'"

It's also intriguing that Random House has devised an elaborate system of authentification to make sure that only "truly deceived" patrons can file for reimbursement for the fake book: from the hardcover, send back only page 162 and your receipt from the bookstore, verifying that you bought it before January 26, 2006. I'm thinking of forging my own page 162 of Frey's book and sending it in, with a letter indicating that it is in fact a forgery of a lie, but I still want my money back. I will also point out that I always knew James Frey was a fake, and that Bruce Willis was actually a ghost.

p.s. Please forgive me for my title.


Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Wait now which posting is a joke? This one or the one before? You need to go back to your disclaimers at the end of your posts. Your straight face is too inscrutable for me.

9:47 AM  
Amardeep said...

Suvendra, Well, both are referring to "serious" issues, though there is an attempt at humor. As to whether I am really going to forge page 162 or 3 of Frey's novel and send it in as part of the class-action lawsuit, there I am just joking.

Actually, I am just going to photocopy it (a shame to ruin a perfectly good book!).

9:05 AM  
desiknitter said...

hahahaha! Amardeep, I like the pun. I want Law and Order to do a "ripped from the headlines" episode on this, somehow, and then have the defense use Foucault and de Man to argue their case. It can then serve as a standard text for an introductory class on inter-textuality, self-referentiality and the nature of historical truth.

More seriously, courts as a site for debating genre (and all the politics of truth and fiction) is fascinating, no? It is also happening in the discipline of history, where recently a historian (in the UK, I think) filed suit against Gavin Menzies (and possibly his publisher?) for "falsely" cataloguing his eponymous book about the Chinese "discovery" of the Americas in 1421 as "history" since it is patently (sorry!), in his view, "fiction." Am not sure where the case is currently, but it predictably set off questions within the profession about how these issues are to be resolved in a postmodern age.

3:33 PM  

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