Well, perhaps the previous Frey post doesn't quite say it all. The reactions of Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, and Nan Talese, Frey's publisher, two members (deservedly) of the publishing industry's elite, are worth a word or two.
Nelson: I believe that a memoir is not "simply" nonfiction. While based on truth, a good memoir must share many traits with the novel. It has to have a narrative and development and denouement. And sometimes that means the larger "truth" takes precedence over absolute accuracy.
Talese: Nonfiction is not a single monolithic category as defined by the best-seller list. Memoir is personal recollection. It is not absolute fact. It's how one remembers what happened. That is different from history and criticism and biography, and they cannot be measured by the same yardstick.
Their point seems to be that since memoirs are written from the memory of the author, a certain lack of accuracy is necessarily to be expected. What is important is that author be true to the insights he has gained from his experience and convey these to the reader in a unique and compelling way.
I respect both Ms. Nelson and Mrs. Talese very much (I have either met or corresponded with both of them), but I think they're too ready to excuse the bad behavior of someone they admire.
On the theoretical level, the dichotomy between accuracy and good storytelling is obviously false. David McCullough doesn't have any trouble making his subjects interesting without making things up. Perhaps Mr. Frey's story, on the facts, just isn't that interesting. (If this is so, then Mr. Frey's embellishments are rather cynical, since it would mean that he has tried to win unmerited sympathy and use it to sell his book.)
On the practical level, insofar as Ms. Nelson and Mrs. Talese are correct, their point is trivial. This scandal involves matters that can be verified. I have no doubt that Mr. Frey's memory is unclear ("Imagine waking up on a plane. You have no idea where you have been or where you are going, you have no memory of the preceding two weeks."). Nevertheless, he could have refreshed his memory with the same records reviewed by "The Smoking Gun". Indeed, it's remarkable that he didn't, precisely because his book is a memoir and he admits that having no memory was part of his problem.
Mr. Frey had this to say for himself on Larry King Live:
The essential truth of the book, which is about drug and alcohol addiction, is there.
Ms. Nelson's assessment echoes Mr. Frey's:
Sometimes the larger "truth" takes precedence over absolute accuracy. . . . He never claimed that Pieces was supposed to be All the Presidents' Men.
Neither seems to realize how seriously these comments call Mr. Frey's integrity into question. If Mr. Frey, hoping that no one would notice, lied about things that can be verified, why should we believe what he says about things that only he can know?
Ms. Nelson calls Mr. Frey's book "a compelling portrait of an addict's life complete with all its deceptions." How can we now be sure that A Million Little Pieces is itself not one of these deceptions? Her suggestion that he "gave the readers what they want" and "let them believe what they want to believe" doesn't inspire confidence.
As is often the case with situations like this, the main problem quickly becomes, not the original offence, but the impenitence of the offender and the rationalizations of his admirers.