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A Million Little Pieces

James Frey

From James’s first days in the Family Program to Lilly’s confession about her abusive past

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

From James’s hearing about his legal problems to finding out about his grandfather’s alcoholism and his childhood ear infection

Summary

James wakes up in front of the TV. He walks back to his room. Miles is reading the Bible. Miles thanks him for allowing him time to himself the previous night. James offers to help however he can. The job board says that James is in the Family Program. He goes to breakfast and consumes an awful burrito as if it were the last thing on earth. Joanne walks James through the basics of the Family Program. The first step is telling his parents everything he’s been doing and the extent of it. Daniel, a counselor in the Family Program, is with them. James’s parents hug him, but he doesn’t hug back. He tells them everything, starting with when he was ten years old, including all of the arrests and the charges, and the skipping bail. His mother and father both cry. Joanne suggests he leave them alone with Daniel.

Back in Joanne’s office she asks how James feels. He tells her that he feels as if suicide is the only option, although not one he’ll pursue. He says that every time he’s near his parents, he gets angry. Joanne asks if he’s ever been abused. James tells her that he hasn’t. She asks if James is going to meet Lilly later that night, and he admits to it. She urges him to not get involved with Lilly. James leaves Joanne’s office and walks to lunch. He stares at Lilly and tells himself that she is becoming what he wanted the Girl with the Arctic Eyes to become: someone who loves him.

James and his parents greet one another briefly before they all go to meetings in which the addicts mingle with other addicts’ family members. James sits by himself at dinner, and afterward he struggles to remain calm. He reads the Tao. Back in Joanne’s office, James and his parents talk about how that morning’s meeting has affected each of them. James goes first, then his father, then his mother, who ends up crying uncontrollably.

James goes to his room in a foul mood and pulls off one of his toenails. The pain calms the Fury. Once he’s gotten this out of his system, he cleans up and leaves his bedroom. In the lounge, he sees someone who is vaguely familiar staring him down. James returns to his room and tells Miles about the shame he feels for putting his parents in pain. Miles tells him that shame is a necessary thing and tells him that he is terrified that his wife, who is arriving next week for the Family Program, will not want him back. James points him to Leonard and to the Tao.

James goes to meet Lilly. They are about to have sex when James tells her that he’s never had sex while sober before. Lilly tells James that she promises him that she won’t hurt or leave him. James tells her that the last time he tried to have sex was with the Girl with the Arctic Eyes and that he couldn’t maintain an erection. Lilly tells him about her mother and how her mother sold her into prostitution for drugs. Lilly ran away to her grandmother after four years of this. At school, she got involved with a crack addict. His friends start using her for sex. There is an unnamed terrible event, but Lilly won’t speak of it. James holds her as she cries.

Analysis

The arrival of James’s parents at the facility unhinges him. He doesn’t want to see them for obvious reasons: he clearly has not told them a whole lot about his life for the past decade or so. He also feels uncontrollably angry whenever he sees them. Joanne is trying to get him to acknowledge some deep childhood hurt, but he can’t even fathom such a thing. As much as James is overwhelmed by the Fury when he sees his parents, they are equally overwhelmed by a completely different set of emotions: guilt, sadness, confusion, and a sense that they’ve been lied to and deceived for many years.

With his parents’ arrival also comes the opening of several other previously closed doors. His relationship with Lilly is suddenly out in the open, despite James and Lilly’s best efforts to keep it under wraps. Miles, a fine, upstanding citizen, reveals himself to be no better than James—he is as much an alcoholic and a mess as any other criminal in the facility. When James tells his parents the story of his addiction, he is in essence giving himself another chance at inventory. His first inventory, which occurred against the backdrop of his possible suicide, had a self-pitying, melancholy tone to it, but James’s rehashing of his life here assumes an extremely detached tone, as if he’s merely reciting the facts. In fact, he’s struggling to keep the Fury at bay and trying to give his parents as much information as he can, since he feels very clearly that he’s lied to them for far too long and does not want to continue this pattern. We are reminded of James’s capability to throw up bravado as a shield, using it as an effective block to feeling anything. James also finally tells the full story of the Girl with the Arctic Eyes, first to his parents and later to Lilly. Of equal importance is the full disclosure to James’s parents. For the first time James is forced to hear them and be in a room with them as they all talk about their emotions and how they feel toward one other. James is finally able to tell his parents how he feels when he is around them—that he is angry at them all the time and can hardly stand to be around them.

Visiting with his parents has brought James closer to the precipice from which he’s only just begun to retreat. The Fury comes back each day now, and where, only a short while ago, he could find calm in himself simply by focusing on the good things in his life, he now must revert to such ghastly acts as ripping off his own toenail to make the Fury go away.

This section is a positive turning point for James, however. He partakes in the Family Program with none of the cynicism that peppers the first half of the book. When the time comes for him to hold hands with everyone in the group meeting, he does so without a single protest. James also voices out loud how awful it is for him finally to be able to see himself as others see him. He says that he sees himself as a monster and that he is utterly ashamed and embarrassed for his parents.

Lilly’s role in James’s life as a replacement addiction is further cemented in this chapter. The two of them are clearly feeding each other’s need for another understanding human being. James and Lilly advance in their relationship as if they are each terribly inexperienced in matters of love. As much as James saw the fragility in John, he is now seeing the same in himself—and in Lilly.

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