James Frey, Author . Nan A. Talese $22.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-50775-2

Frey is pretender to the throne of the aggressive, digressive, cocky Kings David: Eggers and Foster Wallace. Pre-pub comparisons to those writers spring not from Frey's writing but from his attitude: as a recent advance profile put it, the 33-year-old former drug dealer and screenwriter "wants to be the greatest literary writer of his generation." While the Davids have their faults, their work is unquestionably literary. Frey's work is more mirrored surface than depth, but this superficiality has its attractions. With a combination of upper-middle-class entitlement, street credibility garnered by astronomical drug intake and PowerPoint-like sentence fragments and clipped dialogue, Frey proffers a book that is deeply flawed, too long, a trial of even the most naïve reader's credulousness—yet its posturings hit a nerve. This is not a new story: boy from a nice, if a little chilly, family gets into trouble early with alcohol and drugs and stays there. Pieces begins as Frey arrives at Hazelden, which claims to be the most successful treatment center in the world, though its success rate is a mere 17%. There are flashbacks to the binges that led to rehab and digressions into the history of other patients: a mobster, a boxer, a former college administrator, and Lilly, his forbidden love interest, a classic fallen princess, former prostitute and crack addict. What sets Pieces apart from other memoirs about 12-stepping is Frey's resistance to the concept of a higher power. The book is sure to draw criticism from the recovery community, which is, in a sense, Frey's great gimmick. He is someone whose problems seem to stem from being uncomfortable with authority, and who resists it to the end, surviving despite the odds against him. The prose is repetitive to the point of being exasperating, but the story, with its forays into the consciousness of an addict, is correspondingly difficult to put down. (Apr. 15)

Forecast:Gus Van Sant, director of Drugstore Cowboy and Good Will Hunting, is negotiating to bring Pieces to the screen, so wise readers will not commit to 400 pages but wait for the 96-minute version, but booksellers should stock up as the chiseled Frey hits the interview circuit.

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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