From the author of A Million Little Pieces, a love story alternating between 1992 Paris and Los Angeles in 2018. At its center are a young writer and a young model on the verge of fame, both reckless, impulsive, addicted, and deeply in love. Twenty-five years later, the writer is rich, famous, and numb, and he wants to drive his car into a tree, when he receives an anonymous message that draws him back to the life, and possibly the love, he abandoned years prior.
Whatever else you might say about Frey, he possesses in spades the key quality for success in the twenty-first century: shamelessness ... Henry Miller is the clear inspiration, but the sex in Katerina reminded me less of Tropic of Cancer and more of the scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin in which Steve Carell’s character tries to bluff his way through a conversation about women by comparing breasts to bags of sand. Where Miller was, at the very least, inventively crude, Frey is artificial and bland ... Frey clearly wants you to read this soliloquy as an earnest challenge he’s offering himself in real life. If it is, Katerina is a particularly damp response. But I’m not sure I can give him even that much credit. It’s hard to imagine that Frey genuinely believes the story of a young man and his model girlfriend screwing in Paris will 'burn the world down.' But someone with experience in the publishing industry, and with producing young-adult fiction, might recognize that a melodramatic and slightly seedy romance with a tinge of newsy metatextual frisson is an eminently marketable book ripe for a Hollywood studio to option ... It’s possible that Katerina is an utterly heartfelt novel, and that Frey is an authentically inept writer, rather than a calculatingly bad one. But how could anyone tell? When you build a career as a cynical fraud, even your incompetence becomes suspicious.
James Frey’s first adult novel in 10 years, claims Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer as its literary North Star...Unfortunately, Jay’s Paris lacks the soul, guts and groin of Miller’s rendering, reading more like a student’s account of his study abroad ... Even when wet, Katerina is ever the dry fantasy, tossing off orgasm after orgasm from penetration alone. Each of Jay’s women — and there are several in the book—is also suspiciously easily-turned-on. A quickie against a car with a college ex results in simultaneous orgasms that leave her 'shaking.' One wonders if our protagonist knows what cunnilingus is at all? ... Jay’s libertine dreams similarly leave the reader cold. He frequently professes a desire to 'burn the world down,' but one wonders which world he is talking about exactly ... With Katerina, the question of autobiography doesn’t matter so much. Regardless of how true this tale is to Frey’s own personal story, the fictional version cries out for a richer, more succulent imagining.
Why do we keep giving all those extra chances to less-than-mediocre men? ... The book sucks ... Katerina is the novel any weedy college bro high on Henry Miller and the Beat poets would write if he kept banging away at his vintage Olivetti long enough: hysterically emotive, narratively pedestrian, exhilarated by its own borrowed style ... This plot reeks of wish-fulfillment ― the gorgeous, desirable model; their charmed love story; her candle held for him decades later; his destiny as the one writer in his generation who would, as he puts it, 'burn the fucking world down' ... A doomed romance can certainly be compelling, with the aid of fresh language or lively characters. But Katerina wafts through the novel as little more than a sexy red pout atop two long shapely gams, and the narrator, while enraptured by his own navel, never manages to describe that navel, or the affair, with anything approaching insight or originality ... His favorite words include classics like 'fuck,' 'life,' 'crazy,' 'pain,' 'sex,' 'art' and 'love,' and he’s unafraid to reuse them, often many times on the same page ... It’s as though Frey can’t think of any fresh ways to say or describe things, so he resorts to repeating his words, hoping the repetition will stand in for throbbing inspiration.