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A Million Little Pieces

James Frey

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

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

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

Summary

An angry Lilly comes to James’s room in the middle of the night. She is convinced that James has been speaking to someone who said horrible things about her and that hearing those things has frightened him away. She says that if it turned out that he didn’t want her anymore, she would panhandle or otherwise find money for a bus ticket back to Chicago, say good-bye to her grandmother, and then commit suicide by overdosing. James reassures her that he’ll never leave her. James tells Lilly about his parents and that he loves her. Back in the unit, Leonard tells James that family is the most important thing anyone can have. James goes back to his room and spends some time looking himself in the eyes.

James finally places the man he cannot remember. It’s the same guy who threatened him on James’s first day. The guy tells stories about Lilly having sex with numerous men at one time, for the most part against her will. James controls himself for a time but then tells the man to back off. He ends up hurting the man by squeezing his Adam’s apple. There is another blow yet to come: James’s parents tell him they have to leave the Family Program early because of his father’s business obligations. James is angry, but he controls it. They talk about James’s plans for after he gets out of the clinic. James says he’s not planning on following the Twelve Step program but that he’s going to make the decision every day not to use and drink. Joanne, once again, explains to him that he is almost destined to fail if he chooses this route. James tells his family that he is going to be living with Lilly when she gets out of the Chicago halfway house and he gets out of prison. James’s parents leave the clinic.

At lunch James and his friends talk about the forthcoming heavyweight fight. They want to watch it but can’t because it’s on cable. Lilly has left a phone message for James to call her. Her grandmother has cancer. She says she needs to see James. James takes the risk and goes to meet her. Lilly and James get caught by Lincoln, who escorts Lilly back to her unit and tells James to stay in his room until he comes for him. James begins to realize that they could both get kicked out of the clinic when they need it the most. Lincoln and James have a conference. Lincoln tells James that Joanne intervened and that James gets to stay as long as he sticks strictly to the rules. James is relieved but finds out that Lilly suddenly left the clinic when she heard she wasn’t going to be able to see James anymore. James remembers their conversation about suicide and runs out of the clinic to find her. He takes the Tao with him. Hank and Lincoln intercept him in the van. The three of them drive to the Minneapolis bus station, where James hears of Lilly’s whereabouts from a drug dealer. He finds her in a boarded-up building among a number of users and drugs, having sex with a man for crack she’s obviously already smoked. He brings her back to the van, and they all go back to the clinic. Lincoln takes her to the medical unit for detox.

Analysis

This section marks the climax of the story, and we see James facing some of his greatest challenges. First, James successfully battles the Fury. He comes to grips with the fact that his parents’ presence causes the Fury to return. His parents’ unexpected departure from the Family Program is a test—after his realization that the Fury is exacerbated by their presence, James is surprised to see that it can also be brought on by his parents’ leaving. However, he quells the Fury by thinking of it in perspective of what they’ve all been through. The Fury comes again when James hears the man he cannot place talking poorly about Lilly. The Fury is worse than it’s ever been at the clinic, but James can now control it and realizes that it’s at full strength because someone he loves is being debased. He takes a lesson from the Tao and lets the man off easily by remembering that an enemy is only an enemy if you let that person be one. For the first time, James feels settled and that he’s done the right thing to avoid an ugly situation. The Fury also arises when James comes face to face with drugs for the first time since his arrival at the clinic. He finds that his need to save Lilly is overpowering. This need transcends any other one to abuse drugs or to drink.

Lilly and James’s roles are reversed in this chapter. When they first speak after their initial encounter, James is ripping apart a tree and needs to be comforted. This time, as Lilly is distraught, James uses the same technique on her that she did on him: holding her tight and whispering, “Okay, okay, okay.” They are effectively each other’s addictions at this point, and this is underscored by the very tense scene during which James is holding Lilly and trying to keep her from fighting him. He has her in his arms and he feels her crack pipe and the bag of drugs against his chest. He badly wants to use it, but he clutches Lilly until the urge goes away. Fortunately, James has found that his addiction to Lilly is now stronger than his other addictions.

The relationship is also slightly unbalanced. When Lilly comes to James crying, his instinctual reaction is that he promised himself that he would be there for her no matter what happened, not that he has promised Lilly that he’d be there for her no matter what. It’s very clear that Lilly is not on the same level as James with regards to his commitment to recovery. They are clearly at different stages in their recovery. First and foremost, James’s mind is on staying at the clinic and making a full recover. Lilly’s mind, however, is on the fact that she will not be able to function without James. At this point the reader can safely infer that James is not only addicted to Lilly but addicted to the concept of being needed. He is fully ensconced in the role of nurturer and caretaker.

The talk of the fight on TV allows James to see how badly he and the other men in the unit crave normalcy. Where men “in the outside world” might crave a little bit of excitement in their lives, James and his friends do nothing but “dream of normalcy.” This thought is a clear indication that James is at least far enough along that he can actually process the idea of normalcy—it’s previously been too foreign for him to even grasp.

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