James Frey is an addict. A multiple addict, doing anything from alcohol, crack, PCP, and a dozen other illegal drugs. He seriously screws up his life, almost dying from an overdose, and is sent to a treatment camp. Here he will do well.
All in all, the book is a champion of the ability to get better. It reads like one way of getting rid of addiction: by confronting it. I wonder how many of the readers that actually face addictions actually have followed the advice in the book – regardless, the history is well told and eminently readable.
Mr. Frey finds himself deprived of all drugs in a very inhospitable environment. He makes friends, he makes enemies, and ultimately wins. His love interest will lose, as will most of the co-protagonists.
Addiction is a sad life. It ends up being needlessly self-centered; but the self here is not the individual, but the addiction. The core thesis is that addiction itself, wherever it stems from, can change one individual’s life to the point where the individual himself and the addiction become indistinguishable.
There is a love interest, friendship, enemies to be vanquished. First and foremost, the protagonist as to win over his own addiction to make it to the next round (which he manages to do, unlike his love interest).
This book got a lot of flak for not being factually correct. As a discussion of the vicissitudes of addiction, though, the book is a complete success; as such it should be treated. Even when the subject matter becomes disgusting, the author never strides away from journalistic and literary standards.