James Frey, at his Connecticut home in July this year.Ellis Alexander Frey
He recognizes that it is no longer politically correct to write a novel as Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski or Ernest Hemingway would have done. Guys in big cities who do nothing but wander, try to write, and have sex. "But it was what I wanted to write," he says. He's James Frey (Cleveland, 51), in his words, "the most controversial American writer of the last 20 years," so what else could he do? “I just wanted to pay tribute to those men's novels that have stopped being written. I wanted to recover the heroic myth of the writer who simply lets himself be carried away to perhaps inspire one or two people to do the same, to leave, to leave everything, to use the world as a stage, as happened to me at the time " , He says.
(Random House Literature) is an autobiographical novel. That is, the protagonist, Jay, is and is not him. “It is true that at 23 I went to Paris to become a writer. It was 1992. Cities were still dangerous and dirty and anything could happen. Today the cities are clean and everything is too safe, and even so, I would give anything to be in Europe right now. He says it from the garden of his house, the place where he picks up the video call. It is in a suburb of Connecticut. It has a forest and a pool in the background. He says that is where he usually writes. In the pool there is an inflatable ball that the wind rocks from one side to the other. "Everything I tell about Paris in the novel is completely autobiographical, the rest not so much anymore," he says.
The rest is a James Frey his age, who receives emails from a stranger named Katerina. A girl he met in Paris and with whom he became more intimate than necessary. A Norwegian model. His life is tedious now. It is the life of a writer who has risen to the top and has stepped aside. Katerina's emails take him back to that moment when anything was still possible. “What the novels of Henry Miller or Ernest Hemingway offered to American kids who wanted to be writers was a way out. They told you: 'The world is out there, go out and find out'. And also: 'You don't have to do what you should, that is, study, find a good job, get married, have children and wait to retire, you can just live!' But none of that exists anymore ”, he argues.
Does not exist?
“The rock stars are dead.
The writers too.
The phone has done away with everything.
Kids today dream of being
That is, to influence a small group of people.
The capitalist atomization has turned the planet into a place with so many idols that it has annulled the idea of an idol ”, he replies.
And, incidentally, it has obviously swept away anything that resembles the hero's initiatory journey, which was what the novels of Henry Miller, and his
, consisted of
“I don't care to be politically incorrect.
Deep down, for me, all art imposes a radical vision, a break with the system, and right now I know that this is an affront and I don't care ”, he says.
Cover of 'Katerina', the latest novel by James Frey.
Yes, in the novel there is sex. Lots of sex. The way there was sex in the Henry Miller novels. "I'm not as graphic as he is," admits Frey, although he tries to be just as intense, and the treatment of women is the same, something that is seen and used, because the point of view is masculine. "I'm not going to follow anyone's rules," insists the writer, who admits that he dated a Norwegian model in his Parisian days, a model "with whom I keep in touch", and that Philippe, one of the characters, "is a today my best friend ”. "It took me almost a decade to publish my first novel when I returned, but I know I would not have done it if I had not allowed myself that trip," he recalls.
In fact, he can't wait to go back. "I guess America has become unbearable," he says. Do you think that is the reason why a considerable number of American writers are writing novels set in Europe? Garth Greenwell, Julia Phillips, Patrick DeWitt. "It is probable. All we want is to escape the United States. It has become an unstable, unhinged place. It's scary. Everything here is about making money. In Europe, my feeling is that people still enjoy life. The food, the walks. Everything, ”he says. His idea is to return, when his children are older, and settle here. "In Italy, Spain or France," he adds.
Frey, who was admitted to a detox center at 23, spoke about it at length in his literary debut,
En a Thousand Pieces
A Radiant Morning
(2008) he described the dark side of Los Angeles long before David Robert Mitchell did in his film
Under the Silver Lake
(2018). And he even dared to draw a gay messiah who was dedicated to getting every girl he crossed paths with pregnant in
The Last Testament
(2012). The author abhors contemporary narrative: “With books it is happening as with jazz. When it began to proliferate, it was no longer possible to distinguish what was simple noise from what had quality. That is exactly what happens with books today. You cannot trust what is produced ”.