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My copy of KATERINA is underlined and dog-eared. It left me crying on the last page and wrenched emotion from me on every page. I loved returning to James Frey's writing style from A MILLION LITTLE PIECES (which I will now reread). It’s poetic and powerful, breaking the rules of grammar and punctuation --- which I find artistic, bold and freeing.

If you're not one for swearing or crudeness, be forewarned, this book is loaded. I'd actually love to see a word count for the "F" word --- maybe even as a percentage of total words. KATERINA (like Frey's other books) is gritty, raw, raunchy, explicit and personal.

"My copy of KATERINA is underlined and dog-eared. It left me crying on the last page and wrenched emotion from me on every page."

I’d really never before thought about how, as writers, our art is constrained --- by punctuation, spelling, grammar, rules, rules, rules. It’s unlike any other form of art. No one tells an artist how to use his materials or what materials are acceptable. A photographer can put film into sand, light or salt water to see what happens. But writers are edited. Must put commas and quotation marks where they belong. Use semi-colons. I hate semi-colons. Frey’s writing illuminated something for me --- even though I’ll still listen to my beloved editor and not string together two complete sentences with only a comma. But I admire his writing for the very fact that he ignores the rules and writes. It’s clearly from his heart and gut, and it pours out feeling honest. I felt that with A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, despite the inherent dishonesty surrounding its publication. There’s something true about the way he writes.

KATERINA is a prequel to that controversial A MILLION LITTLE PIECES. In clever, sometimes hidden little ways, he references that first book --- even explaining his role and conflicting emotions around the misrepresentation of the book as memoir versus fiction and everything that came with that. In a discussion about God, Frey says, “People thought they [books he wrote] were about other things, about drugs or sex or a city or a friend, but they weren’t. They were about God.… Cover of my first book had the hand of Adam reaching to touch God the hand was covered with little sprinkles alluring and devastating a hand reaching for God covered with temptation.”

I met James Frey at this year’s BookExpo. I’d told him I was a writer too, and as he handed me the signed galley, he said, “It’ll make sense when you read the book.” The inscription said: “Burn the f-ing world down.” (But he used all the letters of the word). In KATERINA, his drive and passion were fueled by reading TROPIC OF CANCER in college. It inspired the desire --- the need --- to go to Paris and write books that burned the f-ing world down.

To the character, Jay, “burn the world down” means: “Write books that change people. How they think and feel and live. How they view the world, how they view themselves. Books that confront them. Books that scare them. That make them either love the book or hate it. Books that force people to take a position, that inspire people to either burn them and ban them, or love them and defend them. Books that divide. Books that make the world irrevocably different than it was before they were written. Books that make history because they changed the world.”

Frey really burned the f-ing world down with this book for its ability to make me feel deeply, to consider things in another way, and for its unique Freyian style. KATERINA gets five stars from me!

Reviewed by Leah DeCesare ( on September 14, 2018

by James Frey

  • Publication Date: July 16, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
  • ISBN-10: 1982101458
  • ISBN-13: 9781982101459