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My Friend Leonard
By James Frey
A follow-up to James Frey's bestselling memoir Million Little Pieces (recently named Oprah's book club pick), My Friend Leonard tells the story of the author, a recovering drug addict, as he struggles with his life post-rehab.
The book starts out with our hero James, in prison, doing time for his illegal activities before heading out to Chicago, where he is to be reunited with his girlfriend, Lilly, also a recovering drug addict. As luck would have it, Lilly commits suicide and James is left to pick up the pieces of his life. To help him through these hard times, James enlists the help of a mobster friend that he met at rehab, Leonard. Don Leonard calls James "my son" and takes him under his wing, buying him expensive and lavish meals, clothes and hooking James up with a well-paying gig. The great thing about Leonard is that he instinctively knows when James is struggling and appears in his life at just the right times. We could all use a friend like Leonard to fill the gaping hole in our heart, let alone our bank accounts. Unconditional love is hard to find, but as is apparent from this book, the ability to receive is never in short supply.
Leonard gives relentlessly to James, and while the book preaches the didactic that monetary value cannot supplant true friendship, it gets a little excessive at times. Fine dining aside, James and Leonard share common interests and profound observations about art, culture, and life. Leonard's favorite artist is Gauguin, a man he deems "brave enough to walk away, to care so much that he doesn't care about anything else, to be willing to obey what he feels inside, to be willing to suffer the consequences of living for himself." Such a mantra is illustrative of Leonard's approach to living as the plot progresses and he starts to live the life he always yearned for.
As for James, somewhere in the middle of the book, he gets a clue, gains some independence and detaches himself from Leonard. By this point, he has enough cashflow to move to California and start his new life as a writer and pursue romantic interests. In LA, James stills see Leonard from time to time, but really he concerns himself with his girlfriend and career. It isn't until Leonard leaves town indefinitely, that James experiences true loss. And it is only when they reconnect that the two realize just how deep their bond really is.
My Friend Leonard is an addictive read. James Frey's a good story teller and while his trademark lack of punctuation does tire after a while, he is able to weave enough of a drama to intrigue readers. I was only disheartened by the contrived ending that seemed a little too Hollywood and formulaic. Then again, any author who can get me to read a 450-page book in two sittings is definitely capable.