James Frey's Courage Renewed by Norman Mailer, the Approval Matrix

Photo: WireImage


Vanity Fair's enormous James Frey profile is up this morning, and Evgenia Peretz does a nice job of digging into the Million Little Pieces scandal as best as she can, given the no doubt draconian nondisclosure agreements signed by most parties. There's a lot to digest, although little of it will be a surprise to anyone who's ever worked in publishing: Memoirs are complicated, Oprah was kind of a jerk, and no one agrees on who told whom what and when.

We would like to call your attention to one crucial detail, however, which is in the section of the profile just after Frey hit bottom. Post-Oprah, Frey was a pariah — constantly attacked in the media, scorned by the publishing world, the recipient of angry e-mails from fans, the target of a handful of lawsuits. How did he get his groove back? Well, in part from a visit to Norman Mailer, who broke out the boxing metaphors to tell Frey, "You should prepare to take huge shots every time out because they’ll never stop."

But Frey also found courage from … New York's Approval Matrix!

In January 2007, Frey was with [artist Richard] Prince at his house in upstate New York when Prince began flipping through a recent issue of New York magazine. “I had been named the most highbrow despicable person of 2006 on the Approval Matrix,” Frey recalls. “And Richard looked, and he was like, ‘Dude! Check this out!’ And I sort of went, ‘Oh, dude.’ He was like, ‘What do you mean? That’s great! I wish they would call me that.’”


We went back and checked, and though Frey takes a little poetic license — Kaavya Viswanathan came in a little more Highbrow than Frey, though not quite as Despicable — we're willing to let it go because Frey has always been about breaking the rules. The point is, the Approval Matrix changes lives, people.

Update: Team Matrix writes to note that Frey may have been referring to the "Matrix Awards," which appeared in the issue following the Matrix linked above, and featured a single item per quadrant. And there is James Frey's book as part of the most highbrow-despicable trend of the year: "Writers Who Lie." So Frey scored a double-Matrix whammy that December. Imagine if he'd seen both — he would've written Bright Shiny Morning even faster.

James Frey’s Morning After [VF]

Related: The Year-End Mega-Matrix [NYM]
The Matrix Awards [NYM]

Elsewhere in Memoirists Defending Themselves: Sam Anderson on Augusten Burroughs [NYM]