My Friend Leonard is the follow up to Frey's masterpiece, A Million Little Pieces. My postie delivered it this morning and after doing all my housework, feeding my boys, I settled down to read it. At 3:18pm I finished reading it through a blur of tears. MFL is just as good as AMLP, and by now you know how much I loved that book.
At the end of AMLP you are told what happens to each of the people Frey meets in rehab, so you kind of wonder what the point of the follow up will be, as you already know Leonard's fate. However, there is much left to be said, and although Frey isn't in a visceral struggle to come off booze and drugs, daily life is as much a struggle. The writing style is the same, the pace and emotion doesn't change, and I admit to reading some passages through blurred eyes. It's another fantastic book which will stay with me forever. Hopefully some of you that pick up AMLP will go on to read this too. You won't regret it!
I was a huge fan of Frey's controversial memliar, A Million Little Pieces, as most BGOers will know. I almost wet my pants in admiration for the gripping, engaging, fraught, and terribly well-written book. Unfortunately, as we all know, the book was less non-fiction and more fiction. A reading of his sequel, My Friend Leonard, should have been a beacon of the truth, long before thesmokinggun broke the story. Despite the controversy, I still maintain that the books (MFL slightly less so), are infinitely good reads, and Frey's writing style, fiction or non, is right up my street.
Still, I had his fictional novel, Bright Shiny Morning, on my shelves for a little while, a little scared to crack it open and be disappointed. Plus, I hate the cover. But thanks to Leyla's encouragement, I finally gave it a go. And it's good. Very good. So good in fact, that it really should stop people bleating on about his memliar controversy. Me included.
Bright Shiny Morning is a kaleidoscope pictorial of life in Los Angeles. At times, it is a documentary of the major events in the creation of L.A. At times, it is a patchwork of stories, featuring characters who do not necessarily re-appear. but for the most part, Frey shows us the lives of small selection of people who come to and reside in L.A.
We have Esperanza, a bright, talented girl who lives with her parents and other family members. Esperanza was born in L.A. to immigrant parents, and has to fake being a stereotypical immigrant, just to get bus concessions and work as a housemaid after scholarship plans fall through. Like her fellow colleagues, the gardeners, she pretends that she doesn't speak much English so that she can avoid conversation with the extremely nasty L.A. wife that employs her, and so that she can hear what is said about her. In L.A. Esperanza finds herself - unlike most who seem to lost themselves.
Amberton Parker; movie star, A-lister, good looker, musclebound, and gay, is married to Casey; movie-star, A-lister, good looker and...gay. They have children and the seemingly perfect life, but both stay firmly in the closet. But Amberton isn't used to not getting what he wants, and when he falls in love with Kevin, an agent, nothing stops him. Not even the fact that Kevin...not so much with the gayness. Here, the Amberton/Kevin storyline isn't as important as the story in which Amberton and Casey build and maintain a facade, and how they conduct their (shallow) lives.
Most heartbreaking, is the story line featuring Maddie and Dylan, who escape to L.A. from abusive parents, and struggle to have a happy family life. The closest they come is when Dylan starts work as a caddie and his fellow caddies fill the gap. But the past isn't a foreign country, even a relatively new L.A. past.
Frey, through vignettes, historical facts (simply listed), documentary notes, and most saliently, through his characters (all vivid, all believable), successfully creates a picture of L.A., a panorama of a city we think we all know. It's not a million miles away from the perception we have, but he manages to make it human. It's all shiny and glossy whilst at the same time grubby, seedy, dusty and hot. He sticks to his trademark short sentences, separate lines for dialogue, whilst merging sentences without punctuation in longer passages of prose. And it works well, it conveys the sense of this tired, exhausted, dreamy, fast, superficial, shallow city. His writing is not particulary descriptive, but his brisk, simple narration really lends itself to story-telling, a voice you want to listen to. I did really feel like I was standing on the city borders, watching these tales roll by as Frey's narrator presented them.
A note on the cover that I hate. Neon lights simply scroll out the title. I get it - if any light is going to be shone upon L.A. it has to be neon - both glossy and showbizzy, whilst being seedy and grubby - the lingua franca of strip joints and XXX Movie Rentals. And it's false; a false light, a false colour, a false brightness. I just don't like it - it doesn't do justice to the contents.
I can't tell you how pleased I am that Frey has proved himself to be a consummate story-teller, and how much of a joy this book is. Stick with the fiction Frey, and you'll go a long way.