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A Million Little Pieces

James Frey

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

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

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

Summary

James meets with the facility’s attorney, his parents, and Daniel. James learns that the charges in Michigan and North Carolina are minimal and that he’ll only have to pay a fine. In Ohio, the charges are more serious, and James is facing three years in state prison. James says he won’t go to trial, because he is guilty of all the charges against him. James hugs his mother for the first time in his life. They separate, and he goes to lunch. He remembers last night’s conversation with Lilly, in which he told her he’d be willing to move to Chicago to be near her. James has lunch with his friends, who offer words of encouragement. James notices Bobby sitting with the man who is familiar to James, but whom he cannot place.

James goes back to meet with his parents. He tells them a little about his friends and about Lilly, whom he says he loves. His father says to tell Lilly they said hello. At another meeting with other addicts and family members, but not his own, James learns the conventional knowledge that addiction is a genetic disease and that it is incurable. He doesn’t believe it, choosing instead to label it a decision. Back at the unit the Bald Man is graduating. He cries again, but this time he gets a standing ovation. James goes to call his brother and some friends. One of his friends has been drinking. He calls three of his friends who are also friends with the Girl with the Arctic Eyes. Back in the dining hall, James spots Lilly, who stares at him angrily and looks like she’s been crying. He tries to find out why by gesturing at her, but she doesn’t say anything.

He goes to dinner. Ed is leaving the next day. He is eager to see his four sons. James goes back for another family meeting, in which he tells his parents about the Fury, noting that it seems to get worse whenever he’s around them. His mother and father reveal that James’s grandfather was an alcoholic and that James had a horrible ear infection when he was a baby that went unnoticed and unchecked until he was two. He had to have operations until he was twelve to fix the problem. James refuses to blame his current condition on his past and says that he must take responsibility for what he does and what he’s become. They part with a hug and James goes back to his room.

Analysis

James and his parents reach several milestones in this section, but probably the most important is James’s willingness to initiate physical contact with them. He says he can feel the Fury rising but quells it. James is learning that instant gratification is perhaps not a part of the solution. He also feels a small sense of joy when he initiates contact with his parents. He seems almost surprised to discover that this act creates an immediate sense of family. The entire time he was looking for something, it was right there all along. All he had to do was give in a little and accept some help from those who were closest to him. Another important step is James’s decision not to hide his friends and his girlfriend from his parents. He makes a conscious effort to disclose everything about his current life, telling them that his best friend is some sort of mobster, that his other friends are crackheads and drunks, and that his girlfriend is a pill-popper and former prostitute. He finds that his parents are most concerned with whether his friends are nice people and whether he loves his girlfriend. This knowledge is refreshing, and it gives James the capability to be more honest with them as time goes on and as they begin to mine the important parts of his life.

When faced with the reality of state prison, James realizes that there can be no more running. He is finally aware that he must take responsibility for his actions. The disclosure that James’s grandfather was an alcoholic and that his first two years were completely consumed with a horrible ear infection (explaining why his first memories are of anger and pain) is a true test of whether James can take responsibility for himself. He notes that these two explanations are viable enough to allow him to absolve himself of the past twenty-three years of pain and damage. But in the end, James chooses to believe that he is responsible for his own actions.

The Bald Man’s graduation marks a pinnacle in the maturity of James Frey. At past graduations, he has been indifferent, cynical, or sad, but at this graduation he is visibly moved. He feels chills up his back, and he feels hope for the first time. Lilly’s anger at James is cause for concern, certainly. But that doesn’t seem to dampen his deep sense of contentedness. This chapter of James’s life closes with him realizing ultimately that the act of drawing strength from others and acting as a possible source of strength is the most effective form of killing the Fury.

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