Skip over navigation

A Million Little Pieces

James Frey

From James’s encounter with Leonard to the Bald Man’s story

From being exposed to AA to walking out of the clinic

From the introduction of Matty to the first secret meeting with Lilly

Summary

James is having a hard time sleeping after his decision, so he spends some time outside thinking about the girl in his past that he’s referred to several times before, the girl he loved. He recounts the first time he was ever in her room. By sunrise, he’s convinced that he’s permanently destroyed what he had with her. James goes back to his room and examines himself in the mirror. He still can’t look himself in the eyes. He decides to remove the stitches from his cheek with nail clippers borrowed from Warren, which makes his face a bloody mess. At breakfast, Leonard recounts his life story. His mother and father died when he was young, he explains. He followed around a mobster named Mikey the Nose, who took Leonard under his wing and eventually adopted him. Leonard implies that he’d like to help James in the same way. James turns him down, and Leonard changes the subject to the day’s football game, in which James’s favorite team, the Cleveland Browns, is playing. Lincoln apologizes to James about taking Roy’s side: he’s learned that Roy likely trashed the bathrooms after James cleaned them. They agree to “start over.”

James’s brother Bob and two friends, Julie and Kirk, come to visit him at the clinic. They bring him presents: cigarettes, chocolate, clothes, and books. They watch some football together and then go for a walk in the woods, where they meet Lilly and her grandmother. Bob, Julie, and Kirk urge James to try and get better and give him a list of people who have asked about him. Back at the clinic, Julie goes to the bathroom. She runs into John, who gives her his business card. James explains that John is his roommate.

In the lounge, Leonard announces that he’s called a Cajun restaurant to cater that evening’s dinner. James goes to the telephone with his list of people. He calls the friend who put him on the airplane to Chicago, and his parents, who tell him they would like to participate in the facility’s weeklong Family Program. James refuses. He goes back to his room. John tries to make amends for giving his card to Julie by offering his daughter up to James, a suggestion that repulses James. John curls up under his covers, cursing and punching himself. James recounts John’s life story of being molested by his father.

At the Cajun dinner, James stuffs himself and barely makes it to the bathroom in time to throw up. Later, he gets a phone call from Lilly, who tells him that her grandmother thought he had pretty eyes. James goes to sleep that night smiling. The next day James’s new job is making coffee for the group, a clear sign that he has progressed and moved further up the clinic ladder. He has breakfast with Leonard, Ted, and Ed. Ed is in rehab for the fourth time, and he tells everyone that this is the last time his union will pay for it. Ted skipped bail and is trying to lessen his sentence by going through treatment.

James’s psychology test results reveal that he is highly intelligent and angry and has low self-esteem. Joanne tries to convince him to accept the Twelve Step program, which is solely accountable for the success rate of the facility, but James refuses. James leaves Joanne’s office to go to a speech by the Bald Man, who is sharing a humiliating story of how he was so drunk that he peed all over his clothing in front of his daughters and neighbors and had to be restrained with a dog leash. This is a serious moment for the Bald Man, a moment in which he reveals when he knew he had hit rock bottom. Despite stern warnings from Lincoln, most of the men laugh, and the Bald Man leaves the room sobbing. James goes outside to think and comes to the conclusion that he must try to get sober.

Analysis

At the opening of this section, James is counting down the twenty-four hours he has promised Leonard he will remain in the clinic, and he is taking an inventory of damage. He notes that he just doesn’t want to look like Frankenstein anymore, but the reader can infer that he’s not just fixing his face so he can die pretty. James finds unexpected satisfaction from his visitors. Although some small part of him may have expected his brother to come visit, he certainly does not expect to see Kirk and Julie, people with whom he assumed he’d burned bridges. One critical detail that the narrative omits is just what egregious harm he’d done Kirk and Julie, to make James think that they’d never want to see him again. Kirk treats this past situation just as it ought to be treated, simply by not speaking of it. The visit also effectively joins past and present in James’s life. His old friends and his brother spend some time watching a football game played by James’s favorite childhood team, but they are watching in the facility, where James’s current life is. At the same time, the brief conversation with Lilly and her grandmother in the woods implies that there is a future to speak of.

The gifts that James’s visitors bring him remind him of what it means to be human. They bring him the essentials: a shaving kit, some warm slippers, new clothing, and small pleasures, like chocolates and some books. James notes that the presents are things that he went without for so long, and that somehow he managed to eke out a life when he sought no nourishment, shelter, and company other than drugs and alcohol.

James’s existence to date has been focused mostly on his problems and the feelings he has toward himself. This is beginning to change. Perhaps the two most striking examples of this change are his encounters with the Bald Man and John. Although his interaction with John is direct, and his observation of the Bald Man is from a distance, these two men both serve as foils to James’s own life. By comparison, his experiences do not seem nearly as bad. When the Bald Man speaks, James finally sees that the worst thing you can lose is your dignity. John admits that he tried to commit suicide and thought it was funny, and James begins to see just how troubled John is. Later, when John tries to “give” his own daughter to James by way of making up for his pass at Julie, James comes to the full realization that John is truly, irreparably damaged, and that this damage is in no way comparable to the damage that James believes is inherent in his own life.

Much of this section of the book shows a change in James’s perceptions of himself and the world. James’s psychology test reveals much about himself that he already knows, but the test is also a valuable tool by which he can measure his own self-worth. Joanne stresses his intelligence and the fact that he needs to realize that he is worth saving. Given James’s predilection toward viewing himself as a destroyer of all things good, he likely has never been able to think of himself as worth much before. It takes someone who’s never met him before to give James the validation he so badly needs: Lilly’s grandmother tells him that he has pretty eyes. The fact that someone kind and sweet, someone’s grandmother, was able to look into his eyes, where he himself has not been able to look in quite some time, seems to give him new reason to go on. Also at this point, three characters at the facility who play smaller roles in James’s life step forward to give James further perspective and validation of himself: Lincoln, James’s unit supervisor, makes the effort to apologize to him for doubting him earlier, and Ted and Ed become actual meal-time friends, where previously James had only Leonard. Indeed, Ted and Ed are two men that James can actually identify with: good men, he says, who happen to be bad men.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us