Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: My Friend Leonard

Caveat: I have never written a book review before. Despite the copious amount of English classes I have taken, resulting in one of my Bachelor's degrees; I was never forced to outright "review" books. I have read many books, but never thought to take notes during the process. Well, that's sort of a lie. I have taken notes while reading, but it was strictly for classwork: papers and such. I find the entire process of stopping my reading just to jot down some thoughts to be a hindrance. I want to keep reading.

I am also a book puritan. I don't write in my books. There are very few books that I have put pen to paper inside and the ones I have are some of the most well-loved books I own. I know this sounds counter-intuitive - not writing in books, but loving the books I have written in. It is a conundrum and so am I. I admit it.

So, this is my attempt at reviewing a book. My first book of the year, nonetheless. I have no doubts that this will not be the most cohesive book review ever. It might not even be a good book review, by the standards of normal book review readers. I rarely read book reviews. I read synopses and form my own opinion based on such. And then I usually just read the book anyway.

But yeah, here goes.

My Friend Leonard by James Frey

The first time I read this book I had just finished his first book A Million Little Pieces. I knew nothing of the Oprah scandal and didn't care to. That book was amazing. A little far fetched, yes, but still quite amazing. As someone who has willingly given away Charles Bukowski's Notes Of A Dirty Old Man because I couldn't handle his prose style, the fact that I even made it through the first of Frey's books was also incredible. He had sucked me into his world and made me love the characters. Especially loud-mouthed Leonard. Leonard with his white Mercedes and his "connections." So when I found out that the second book focused almost solely on James' relationship with Leonard, I was elated. I wanted to know more about what happened after their rehab visits ended. Like a little kid, I just needed to know more. I wanted a sequel. And that, in a sense, is what Frey has done. He has given us an ending to what should have been a perfectly viable story on it's own.

It takes a minute to get adjusted to Frey's stream-of-consciousness prose style. His syntax and his lack of grammar clues almost annoy me at some points. His refusal to punctuate any sort of conversation or dialogue is almost mind-numbing. But it is the story that sells itself. You quickly grasp the tone of the speakers, especially Leonard, who greets Frey with a boisterous "MY SON!" almost every time he enters a room.

Frey and Leonard are like the father-son team you always sort of envied in school. They are jovial to each other and there is a love that only they seem to understand. It seems to stem from having seen the worst of themselves and finding a friend there, at the bottom of it all.

The book is not short, nor is it long. There are parts that seem to drag on and on, especially when Frey is lamenting about the women he has loved and lost. He seems incapable of keeping a relationship going in this story. And I know the story isn't about this, but it is still awkward to read.

It is his relationship with Leonard that keeps the story going and it is Leonard that eventually pushes Frey away. He has his reasons, but it is still heartbreaking. At the very end of it all, Leonard is still, in a very honest sense of the word, a noble character. He is the kind of character that exists to help us all believe that if there can be this level of love between an Italian "businessman" and his adopted drug-addict, bad movie-making son, then maybe the rest of us have a shot at something great. I cried at the end of the book. I'm not going to lie. The first time I read this, I bawled my little eyes out. It's touching and heartbreaking and if you tend to get involved with the characters and put yourself in the story, like I do, you might want to have a box of tissue ready. Or at least be prepared to do the "there's something in my eye" routine that we have all employed at least once.
Forgiving all the grammar issues and creative liberties, Frey is an excellent story-teller. He has a knack for story-telling that will keep many of us reading his books for years to come.

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