I reviewed James Frey's new memoir My Friend Leonard for Time Out New York a few weeks ago. I didn't have many expectations when I took the assignment. I had read parts of his first memoir, A Million Little Pieces, and thought it wasn't bad but at the same time didn't get caught up in all of the excitement that seemed to be surrounding its publication. I had also read his essay in the Marc Josephs photo book American Pitbull, but I had sort of put that out of my mind. So I was suprised by how much I loved My Friend Leonard, which is a lonely, lonely little book that somehow manages to be mesmerizing.
The part that really got me--and I should have seen it coming--was the final third of the book, which deals in part with his pit bulls, Cassius and Bella. Frey decides he needs a companion and chooses a pit bull, because he's seen how playful a friend's pit is, and that is what he wants: a dog that will interact with him. In a brilliantly written scene, he answers an ad for pit bull puppies that takes him to an unfamiliar section of LA, where he picks a little pup that is the offspring of a large, scarred, imposing sire. What's brilliant about this scene is that even though he totally underplays the elements, the reader knows what Frey doesn't: this is a fighting dog, and his fear of the situation is part of Frey's decision to buy the puppy.
Cassius proves to be a wonderful companion, and for much of the rest of the book scenes are punctuated by the ritual of kissing Cassius, which is expected of anyone who enters or exits Frey's life. Later, he acquires Bella, an abandoned pit bull--but as Cassius grows older, his fighting instincts kick in, and Frey has to choose the most responsible action for the sake of both animals.
And that's when I curled into a little sobbing ball in my bed.