Watch Your Step(s)
The central component of A
Million Little Pieces is the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step
Program… and the fact that James finds the whole process an "utter
bulls*** fantasy fairy-tale piece of crap" (3.1.420).
James disparages not just the program itself but also any
person who has ever followed it, whether it worked for that person or not. He
says, "I think the thing is f***ing stupid and I wonder if keeping an open
mind at this place is the same thing as having an empty mind" (2.3.110).
Why is James so against this proven program? Well, he
believes that "addiction is a decision" (3.3.241), not a genetic
problem or the result of other factors—just a decision. Unlike other people,
James just decides one day not to be addicted. From the beginning, he's been
talking about how in control he is: "I am in complete control of what I'm
doing and what I'm feeling" (1.8.267). If that's true, why did he choose
addiction in the first place?
The Tao of the Twelve
James may not care for the Twelve-Step program, but he does
choose another book to guide him through his recovery process: the Tao Te Ching, which he says "feeds
The funny this is that James ends up picking things from the
Tao that are also part of the
Twelve-Step program; this shows us that he picks and chooses what he believes
in, just because he can. For example, he believes in making amends because "what
is important is the act of apologizing, the act of admitting fault, the act of
asking for forgiveness" (1.8.265). Wait, is it just us, or isn't that a
huge component of the Twelve-Step program?
(Let it be noted that James rarely does apologize over the
course of the novel.)
James seems to like the Tao
just because it doesn't force any particular set of rules on
people. For example, the first poem in the book says: "The Tao is that
which has no name and is beyond any sort of name." That leaves a lot of
room open for individual interpretation. There's no big guy in the sky telling
you what to do in Taoism.
We have to wonder: Does James decide to go with the Tao just because it's
something that isn't expected of him? Just because it could almost be
considered countercultural? After all, this is a guy who will choose just about
anything that isn't mainstream; he even revels in the fact that he's one of the
2% of people who ignore the Twelve Steps and don't relapse. Maybe that's the Tao of James: do
whatever it takes to defy expectations.