Katerina by James Frey

James Frey’s new novel, Katerina, takes place between Paris in 1992 and Los Angeles in 2017.  It is the story a young writer trying to carve out his place in the world and a torrid love affair that consumes him to his core.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I came to read James Frey quite late – long after the controversy subsided surrounding A Million Little Pieces and the verbal dressing-down he received by Oprah on national television.  Already knowing this and then choosing to dive into his two-part “memoir” (A Million Little Pieces & My Friend Leonard) likely made the reading experience more enjoyable.  His follow-up novels Bright Shiny Morning and The Last Testament of the Holy Bible were interesting reads, but failed to stick with me like his infamous first releases.

When I heard he was releasing a new novel, his first in the blistering style he is most known for in nearly ten years, I was excited.  Because above all else, it’s his writing style that draws me into his novels.  Frey writes in quick, punchy sentences that tends to leave raw emotion on the page like blood stains.  That said, in Katerina, the style is front and centre and in full force, but something didn’t click with me this time around.

I didn’t find the story of Jay, the main character and seemingly an avatar for Frey himself, pining over this beautiful woman nearly as powerful as the emotions evoked in his earlier works surrounding alcoholism and drug use.  In fact, I found Jay downright insufferable at times.  He reminded me of a self-righteous, overbearing, fedora-wearing poster on Reddit – constantly bragging to anyone who would listen about his taste in books, his appreciation for art and his disdain for pseudointellectual Americans abroad.

And dear God, the sex-scenes.  Look, one or two is alright in a novel and bear in mind, I’m no prude, but this felt like straight-up porn at times.  They also all seemingly blended together like they could have been simply copy-and-pasted.  After the fifth scene, I just skipped over the rest.  I got nothing out of these.

Katerina is not my favorite of James Frey’s work, obviously.  The character mirrors Frey in that they have similar career paths (right down to the controversy surrounding an exaggerated memoir) but it leaves some of the more intense self-criticism that Jay unloads lingering in this weird purgatory between fact and fiction.  Is Frey really this miserable with his life?  I guess it’s up to the reader to decide.  One thing I can say for sure is that I was pretty miserable when I was reading about it.

Release Date: September 11th, 2018

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