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A Million Little Pieces

James Frey

From James’s return to the clinic to writing his inventory

From Lilly telling James about her sick grandmother to James leaving the clinic to save her

From the talk with the priest to the end of the book

Summary

James has terrible dreams after returning to the clinic and seeing Lilly taken back into the detox unit. He goes to see Lincoln, who tells him that James’s behavior while retrieving Lilly is something he has never seen before. He also says that Lilly is doing okay but that her grandmother will need to pay for another term at the clinic. Ken and James meet with Randall, the clinic attorney, who delivers the news that James’s sentence in Ohio has been reduced to three months in a county jail and three years probation. Ken tells him that it’s also time for him to run through steps four and five of the program, which involve writing down an inventory of his misdeeds. Step five is admitting to yourself, to God, and another human being the exact content of the inventory. The clinic has an experienced priest who normally assists in this step. James is wary, but he agrees.

Back in the unit James notices that there is a new man who has tattoos and a fetid, rotting odor. The man is missing one arm and the other is missing from the elbow down. James goes back to him room and reads the Tao. Miles comes in and tells James that things have not been going well with his wife. James gives him a hug and holds him. Back in the lounge, Leonard makes an announcement: he has been told that he is free to leave the clinic the next day, so he has arranged for a lobster and steak dinner and cable television to watch the boxing match. The unit erupts with joy. At the dinner, James tries to help the new man with no arms get some food but is rudely rebuffed. James gets his own food and sits with Leonard and watches the fight. The night is so enjoyable that none of the men want to go to bed.

James has a new job the next day. It is “greeter.” He sits with his friends at their usual table and notices that there is someone new sitting by himself at the end of the table. His new job dictates that he greet the person, so he does. The man is named Michael and he is brusque at first. Michael tells his story of addiction and shame, and everyone at the table laughs at him. He is upset, but when everyone else tells him their stories, he realizes that they are all laughing with him and not at him. Joanne and James meet to talk about James’s discharge. Pending his successful completion of the final steps of the program, he may leave the day after tomorrow. Leonard is preparing to leave, but before going he gives James all of his contact information. Leonard has two other pieces of news. First, he’s paid for the rest of Lilly’s stay at the clinic. Second, he’d like to take James on as the son he’s never had. James agrees.

After Leonard’s dramatic departure, James goes to lunch. He meets Miles, who tells him that his wife is going to come to the Family Program. James calls his brother Bob and asks if he can stay with him for a little while. He gets a pad and a pen and goes outside to work on his inventory of himself, which ends up at an impressive twenty-two pages. After reading it over, he indicates that there is one more thing he must confess, but that he has not written it down on the list.

Analysis

As James’s stay in the clinic ends, new patients are being admitted who serve as markers of his progress. The first is a truly terrifying specter—a rotting husk of a human being. The man is physically injured, silent, and disgusting. Basically, he is much like James must have been on admission, even down to refusing help with his dinner. It wouldn’t be too off the mark to say this man is like a ghost (he even smells like he is dying), a physical reminder to James of what he was, and what he will be if he goes back to his old ways. The second new person is Michael, who, like the Bald Man, tells his story only to find the men responding in laughter. The difference this time, however, is that the laughter is much more genial. There is a sense of camaraderie now that was not so apparent before. Also, we see that James can finally focus on someone other than himself. He tries to help these two men. On the telephone with his parents, he takes the time to ask how they are. The profound selfishness that marked James’s early days in the clinic is starting to subside. Other people now matter.

In the dinner scene, we see this calmer, more relaxed James at his best, and we see that his former behaviors are not unique to him. When presented with a nice meal, the men in the unit slip into extremely odd and somewhat repulsive eating habits. They cram whole lobster tails into their mouths, eat with their fingers, and rip at porterhouse steak with their teeth. James is reminded of his own first few days at the clinic, when he ate with his fingers and stuffed himself to the point of vomiting. This is the nature of addiction. The hunger, the need, the greed—these things are lessening for James. He now eats like a normal human being. He savors every bite and tastes the food. The dinner scene also marks the second time that Leonard has commanded the evening and brought some life and joy into the world of the clinic. Leonard’s influence is tremendous, and he offers the most valuable thing possible: hope. Though he eats as messily as the other men, he remains a deeply civilizing force.

James has taken several inventories of himself through the course of the book. Early on, he creates a mock obituary, which is dreadfully depressing and belies just how sorry James felt for himself when he first arrived. Throughout the book, he has listed and tallied various drugs taken and offenses committed. But now he is faced with the task of completing a formal, public declaration of his sins. Moreover, he is being asked to give this quasi-confession to a priest. Having no faith in God or the Twelve Step program, this is a lot to ask. Amazingly, James agrees, largely because this task is in tune with his principles of honesty and personal responsibilities. He throws himself into the task with characteristic zeal, cranking out twenty-two pages. At the end of the process, he hits a wall of sorts. There is one thing that he feels he cannot yet let go of, one thing he has not yet mentioned. Whatever it is, it’s too horrible for him to write down. When he looks at his reflection and thinks about the unnamed event, his pale green eyes (something he worked so hard to be able to look at directly) now appear dirty green. It seems clear that once this last thing is faced, James will be free. We do not know, however, whether he can successfully face it.

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