“The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath” (Little, Brown and Co.), by Leslie Jamison
With a somber tone, intricate detail and multilayered storytelling, Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath” lays bare the myths surrounding artists and addiction. The work consists of several narratives following the same current. In tandem to the author’s account of her own spiral into alcoholism, she meticulously examines the lives and work of writers who inspire her, exposing the turmoil of addiction plaguing Raymond Carver, Billie Holiday, David Foster Wallace and more. On top of this, she unpacks America’s long relationship with addicts and lastly tells the stories of the biker, the nurse and countless others occupying the folding chairs in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Jamison’s exploration of how culture impacts the direction that addiction takes people is, while not new, framed in a nuanced context, giving new breath and voice to an old problem. The author’s own alcohol dependence led her to a church basement where she received coffee, a sponsor and endless encouragement. Meanwhile, her non-white countrymen follow the path of substance abuse to federal penitentiaries.
Jamison at times seems adamant that readers dislike her, force- feeding her selfishness onto the page lest her audience suspect an ounce of goodness resides in her. Even the sober scenes of her personal narrative pulse with notes of disgust, trucking beyond humility and resembling self-loathing. Even so, this book reads like a fine poem.
Encompassing depth adorned with eloquence and a marriage of memoir and research, the message is important and should serve to shatter our romanticism of the altered artist’s contributions. Jamison digs deeply into the mythical cloud billowing around writers and what’s in their glass, proving sobriety is a creative force to be lauded.