The most unexpected mea culpa in the world has just been made public. Oprah Winfrey has apologised to James Frey for the torture-rack treatment she gave him on her show.
Frey is the author whos book, A Million Little Pieces, described his descent into a drug- and violence-fueled hell of his own creation, and his efforts to drag himself back from the precipice. Oprah publicly lauded it until it was revealed that Frey had seriously exaggerated many of the incidents described in the book. Then, she brought him back onto her show for a public excorciation, live in front of a national television audience. You can read all about the details in the article on Time's website.
Now, apparently, something has changed. Oprah has apologised for her treatent of Frey. This has left those in the literary field scratching their heads, wondering why. There was no need for her to return to this painful issue. Her multi-media juggernaut was rolling on just fine, leaving Frey's trampled form in its wake. Why would she take such a step?
Conspiracy-minded theorists might postulate that it has to do with Frey having in his posession certain recordings of telephone conversations with Oprah that, if released to the public, would portray her in an unflattering light. Such ideas are highly speculative at best, and disingenous at worst.
I choose to take the high road on this one. I believe that Oprah truly did have a moment of enlightenment. She realized that whether or not the incidents portrated on the printed page actually occurred are truly of secondary importance. When reading any work, whether it claims to be fiction or nonfiction, the important thing is how the ideas and values expressed therein mesh with one's own experiences and world-view. Critical reading is the process of exposing one's self to concepts one would not normally experience, and deciding whether to accept or reject those concepts into yourself.
Fiction tells the little lie that leads us to the big truth. In this case, the truth is that even when we reach the bottom of the barrel in our worldly existence, and feel that there is no way out of our situation, it is possble, through a combination of hope, faith, and perserverence, to pick one's self up and re-build a semblance of normalcy. While we still draw breath, redemption is possible. That is the truth behind A Million Little Pieces, and that is the truth behind the story of James Frey. The details are not as important.