Book Review : James Frey - Katerina (2018)
Order Katerina here (or don’t)
Follow your heart and follow your cock.
James Frey is famous for all the wrong reasons. Not that he isn’t talented. On the contrary, he was talented enough to write a semi-fictional memoir called A Million Little Pieces that duped people into thinking it was entirely true, which really angered Oprah Winfrey. He’s also famous for running a writing sweatshop that pays MFA students 250$ per novels, which is insane. And yes, the company is still running today. I have no idea why people would still give James Frey money to write books in 2018, but here we are. He has a new novel out titled Katerina and it’s awful.
And you savages requested that I review it, so I obliged.
Katerina is most obviously a fictionalized account of James Frey’s life. His protagonist Jay struggles with substance abuse at a young age, finds success and fame writing a partially fabricated memoir about his struggles and now “publishes commercial fiction and creates intellectual property for large media companies”. The novel follows him through two distinct eras of his life: when he was young and horny in Paris (1992) and when he’s middle-aged and depressed in Los Angeles (2017). A mysterious Facebook friend request bring him back down memory lane and makes him live through painful memories again… you see where this is going, right?
So, this is a novel about a very successful man who’s depressed because he didn’t live a meaningful enough life. It’s not an uncommon trope in literature. But Jay had every opportunity to live that life and always bailed out for a reason or another. He traveled to Paris like his heroes Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller, but spent his time over there drinking himself into a stupor and having inebriated sex. So, Frey’s Paris consists in naming places, describing symptoms of crippling alcoholism and crude, awkward sex scenes. It isn’t sexy, inspiring and especially not subversive. For a guy who professes his hatred of American tourists, he behaves just like one.
And I what I didn’t realize.
Was that when your dreams come true.
You have to dream new.
You have to dream new dreams new.
You have to dream new dreams new and you have to wake up every morning and make them come true you have to dream new dreams new.
But Jay’s dream do come true anyway. He ends up writing a bestseller that inspires millions of people. He finds financial success writing his commercial fiction and intellectual properties for large media companies. He gets married. The whole nine yards. So, what is he depressed about exactly? Not being Hemingway? Allow me to step on a soapbox for a moment: as a critic, I see too many writers choosing the hard way and tearing their heart out on the page, knowing it’s not going to make them rich, to empathize with a (real of fictional) rich dude’s regrets over his life choices. Motherfucker, these are your choices. Take responsibility for them. Life does not owe you meaning and fulfillment.
That leads me to my second major qualm with Katerina. Katerina herself. She’s a fantasy and a plot device. She’s also the only character in the novel I’m convinced never existed. She has no existence outside of fulfilling Jay’s desires. First, she falls in love with him… because he’s a writer, I guess? She keeps calling him Writer Boy, like it’s a superhero moniker. Then she fucks him within an inch of his life, ignoring the fact he’s a barely functioning alcoholic and last, but not least, twenty-five years later she delivers him from middle-aged monotony via Facebook because she never forgot about him.
I’m sorry, but that smoking hot girlfriend who lives only to satisfy your needs doesn’t exist. It’s a fantasy normal young boys stop having once they trade Kleenexes and unhealthy ideas for real girls. Katerina is the imaginary happily ever after James Frey awards himself. It’s fucked up, because still too many young boys think life owe them a woman like this. And sometimes these kids go to their high school and shoot up their classmates because they don’t understand why life isn’t fulfilling the promises made by movies and novels like Katerina. Model girls will never wait twenty-five years for mediocre looking middle-aged writers to fuck them. That doesn’t happen.
The one thing I’ll give to James Frey is that he can write. His style is a little gimmicky with the telegraphic sentences and the random splashes of improvised poetry, but it’s a style and it makes reading Katerina a smooth and easy process. But that’s it. Otherwise, this is a nasty and toxic little book that promotes stereotypes about writing (and life in general, really) that shouldn’t exist in 2018. I know James Frey likes to think of himself as polarizing and subversive, but he isn’t. There isn’t an idea in this book that wasn’t promoted a hundred times over the twentieth century. Katerina is a self-congratulating happily ever after he sure is entitled to write for himself, but I’m baffled as to why would anybody want to publish it.