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A Million Little Pieces

James Frey

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

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

From James finding out his parents are coming to visit to his second secret meeting with Lilly

Summary

There is a new man at breakfast, and James recognizes him. He is Matty Jackson, former Featherweight Champion of the World, and he is at the clinic because he is a crack addict. James, Leonard, Matty, Ed, and Ted sit together during breakfast and at a clinic lecture. After the lecture James goes to see Joanne and tells her he’s decided to try to get sober. He says that seeing the Bald Man cry made him realize what true bravery is.

Ken calls James into his office to ask if he’s given any more thought to doing whatever it takes to get sober. Despite what he just said to Joanne, James doesn’t have an answer to this question. He is still uncertain that he will be successful. Ken gives James an AA workbook (which looks like a coloring book) and instructs him to write down a goal on the “goal board” in the unit. He also tells James that Warren and John are leaving and that he will be moving into a two-person room. James says his good-byes to Warren and John. John asks James to look up his estranged daughter and tell her that he really tried this time. James walks outside, trying to fight the Fury. When it hits him he attacks a small tree and rips it to shreds. Lilly comes, stops him, and holds him while he cries. James’s new roommate is Miles Davis, an older black man, a clarinet player, and a judge in New Orleans. Miles, James, Matty, Ed, Ted, and Leonard have lunch together. At lecture James looks for Lilly and is struck by how he feels when he sees her.

Back in their room, Miles plays the clarinet while James reads the Tao Te Ching, and James eventually falls asleep. James wakes up to screaming. It’s Roy, who’s back, claiming his name is Jack, beating the couch in the lounge with a stick and threatening to kill anyone who comes near him. After he’s sedated, James can’t go back to sleep. He makes coffee while the other men gossip about what happened to Roy. The other men go back to sleep, and James thinks about the girl in his past. He was so struck by her that he could only stare at her until she asked him why he stared. He told her that she was so beautiful that he knew he was falling for her.

James goes outside and sits on a bench at the lake. He is joined by Leonard, who tells him that he is at the facility because his mentor, Mikey the Nose, got clean after years of using and asked Leonard to do the same. Unfortunately, shortly after making this request, Mikey was killed in a drive-by shooting. Leonard says that Mikey’s last piece of advice to him was to hold on. At lunch, James bumps into Lilly and she passes him a note that requests an afternoon meeting. James goes to the goal board and writes that he wants to be a Laker Girl. He fills out the AA workbook by writing one word on each page. He brings the book back to Ken’s office and goes to his room to read the Tao again. At a unit meeting with Lincoln, Lincoln tells the men that Roy has multiple-personality disorder. Lincoln and James go to a meeting in Joanne’s office, where she confronts James about the coloring book and his goal and urges him to take the Twelve Step program more seriously. James reveals that he doesn’t want safety. He wants a test of his will to be sober.

James goes to the woods to meet Lilly and waits. He falls asleep until she wakes him and asks if he has a girlfriend. He tells her about the girl from the past. Lilly tells James that she is at the facility because of her grandmother. She asks him to tell her about his girlfriend, but he says it’s too painful. She tells him to tell her about losing his virginity. He tells her a story about lying to his parents about having a date to the homecoming dance, and how he pretended he was going to the dance, when in fact he was out finding a hooker so he could lose his virginity. Lilly holds him and kisses him good-bye. Later she calls him to tell him she misses him. James walks to his room. He stops outside and listens to Miles playing. He falls asleep thinking of the Tao.

Analysis

James has obviously turned a corner. He has a steady group of people that he sits with at every single meal, whereas he previously ate alone and ate purely to “fill” himself, filling the emptiness that he feels lurking within him. Now, he refers to his mealtime companions as “friends” and experiences a level of contentedness that he doesn’t seem to remember previous to this. There is much laughing and joking at their table during lunch. James is finding that the laughter fills him in a way that blindly stuffing himself with food, or taking drugs, couldn’t. He notes that it feels good to laugh, an indication that he hasn’t done it in so long that he’s forgotten what it feels like.

James is also finding other ways to deal with his situation. Although he still feels helpless at times, he’s finding that concentrating on the things that make him feel good—staring at Lilly, laughing, listening to Miles play his clarinet, or even just reading the Tao—help each day go by a little easier. He makes it a point to actively seek out Joanne and let her know that he is intent on trying to remain sober. During his conversation with Joanne, James is much more amenable to trying her suggestions—“Try it. Be vulnerable,” she tells him—than in previous conversations. James also discovers a maturity level in himself that previously didn’t exist and helps him to cope. Here he is filled with enough confidence and compassion to impart some wisdom to John, who is terrified of leaving. James sits on the bed with him and holds his hand and hugs him. In front of him James sees a boy, not a man. And yet, when John cries, James tells him that he sees a level of strength and bravery in the very ability to cry and release his feelings.

James and John again serve as foils to each other later, in the woods, when James finds a tree to destroy. As Lilly is comforting him, James begins to realize that what he’s been destroying all these years is not other people’s lives, but his own existence. Like John, he also sees in himself a fragile boy, and he lets himself weep and cry in front of Lilly, who evokes in him all of the vulnerability he’s been afraid to outwardly show. When James meets Miles for the first time, he notes that Miles is “immediately a friend,” which he sees as being odd, given that James doesn’t get along well with judges and other authority figures. Perhaps this is more an indication of James’s growing willingness to be vulnerable enough to let people be friends right off the bat, instead of being instantly wary of them. Roy reappears in the facility at a remarkably opportune time for James’s growth. There is a mild feeling of detached redemption in James as he watches Roy screaming—Roy is far worse off than James ever will be—but there is also a sense of sad awareness, that each one of the men in the unit might possibly become Roy, crazed and wielding a stick and threatening to kill.

Lilly’s involvement in James’s life occurs at about the same time that the reader is learning more about the girl James met in college. This timing places Lilly head to head with the girl from the past. They both have blue eyes, but James notes that Lilly’s eyes are like water, whereas the other girl’s eyes are like the Arctic. We still don’t know the other girl’s name. Lilly’s having a name makes her more real, more touchable. Also, as James describes the scars on her forearms and the plastic watch that she wears and the fact that her clothes hang far too big on her, we are able to create a very real picture of Lilly, whereas we only have vague impressions and emotions about the girl at school. In fact, James’s reactions to the two girls are nearly at opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas the Girl with the Arctic Eyes makes James completely forget about the rest of the world, Lilly’s presence in his life is nothing but sheer reality. In some ways, James has neatly exchanged his drugs of choice for Lilly. She, in essence, is another addiction.

James’s reluctance to accept the Twelve Step program is further underscored by his discovery of the Tao. He is more interested in these simple directions on how to live a normal life than he is in directions on how to live life as a recovering addict and alcoholic. Leonard’s lesson to “hold on” appeals to James in exactly this same vein. The concept of tightly focusing in on such a simple detail is very attractive to James, who is frenetic and constantly moving. Both the Tao and Leonard’s advice help him to focus on simply getting better. Although James is still rebelling in small ways (he writes across the coloring book that he doesn’t need the book to know he’s out of control), his rebellions are less about fighting life and more about fighting for the way he wants to live. It’s a small difference, but significant.

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