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The Awful Untruth

Nan Talese Says James Frey
Never Called Book Fiction


By Sheelah Kolhatkar

On Monday, Jan. 16, Nan Talese was on vacation in Bermuda with her husband, the nonfiction writer Gay Talese. It was Ms. Talese’s imprint at Doubleday that published James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces in hardcover, and she had something to add to the still-evolving controversy.
“When the manuscript of A Million Little Pieces was received by us at Doubleday, it was received as nonfiction, as a memoir,” said Ms. Talese by phone. “Throughout the whole process of publication, it had always been a memoir, and for the first year and a half it was on sale, it was always a memoir with no disputation. It was never once discussed as fiction by me or anyone in my office.”
Ms. Talese’s statement appears to contradict Mr. Frey, who has said that it was his publisher’s decision to foist A Million Little Pieces onto the public as a memoir rather than a novel, as he had originally written it. Just a few days ago, during an unrepentant appearance on Larry King Live, Mr. Frey said: “We initially shopped the book as a novel, and it was turned down by a lot of publishers as a novel or as a nonfiction book. When Nan Talese purchased the book, I’m not sure if they knew what they were going to publish it as. We talked about what to publish it as. And they thought the best thing to do was publish it as a memoir.”
Ms. Talese said that she “almost collapsed” when she heard Mr. Frey make that statement. (Mr. Frey, as well as his editor, Sean McDonald, who is now at Riverhead, and his agent, Kassie Evashevski, didn’t respond to calls from The Observer.) Critics and journalists have since repeated Mr. Frey’s claim, citing it as evidence that the publishing industry and its craven marketing decisions are to blame for the fact that elements of Mr. Frey’s book are, in fact, not true.
Still, Ms. Talese—an esteemed veteran of the publishing world—remains unapologetic for whatever role she did play in the book’s production and subsequent popularity as a bible of addiction recovery. She said that there were never any doubts raised during the publishing process—at least with her—about the book’s veracity, and that the only real editorial change made to the manuscript was the cutting of about 100 pages, which was done by Mr. Frey and Mr. McDonald.
If Mr. Frey came to Ms. Talese today with the same manuscript, she said she’d publish it the same way, most likely with a disclaimer in the front. (In any case, she said that the book would never have worked as a novel, in part because the author himself is the only real character in it.) She added that if Mr. Frey had confessed prior to publication to the fabrications revealed by the Smoking Gun last week, she would have excised them from the book. A transgression had been committed, Ms. Talese acknowledged, but the person responsible was Mr. Frey. “I don’t think it is ever a good idea to purposely distort the truth,” she said.
When asked whether she would do anything differently in terms of publishing nonfiction and memoirs in the future, Ms. Talese said: “Absolutely not.”
Not surprisingly, the scandal has only been good for business. According to a source at the company, Doubleday just went back to press on A Million Little Pieces in hardcover (the popular explanation is that the recent intrigue has prompted those who own the book in paperback to want it in hardcover, too).
According to a Doubleday/Anchor spokesperson, in response to these recent allegations, “James is writing an ‘Author’s Note’ that will appear in future reprints of both the hardcover and paperback editions of A Million Little Pieces.” The book will appear at No. 15 on The New York Times’ Jan. 22 hardcover best-seller list.
According to the source at the company, there had been some disagreement among editors at the publishing house about Mr. Frey’s authenticity, but the early dissenters had been silenced by the book’s success, both pre- and post-Oprah.

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You may reach Sheelah Kolhatkar via email at: .

This column ran on page 1 in the 1/23/2006 edition of The New York Observer.

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Respect your elders: Tom Wolfe, the collected works of James Frey and Gay Talese (above).

“‘It’s a sense of betrayal, or a sense of disrespect.’—Gay Talese, reporter”


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