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The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
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This massive book achieves the remarkable feat of making a story of alcoholism and recovery come across as “fresh”, said Nilanjana Roy in the FT. American novelist Leslie Jamison, who fell for the “whiskey-and-ink mythology” in her teens and became a voracious drinker, describes the sense of wonder and liberation the habit gave her. By the age of 21, as she tells us, when she was attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she spent her days “reading dead drunk poets” and her nights “trying to sleep with live ones”. But eventually the costs of addiction became clear: Jamison “spiralled into blackouts and the spin cycle of broken relationships and dangerous encounters”. Eventually, she began attending Alcoholics Anonymous, finding strength in the “uncrafted storytelling” of its meetings.

This is more than a record of one woman’s survival, said John Burnside in the Literary Review. Jamison weaves her own story into an “extraordinary work of literary and social history” that takes in numerous addicted artists, the “astonishing career of Bill Wilson”, the co-founder of AA, and the follies of the US “war on drugs”. Brave and “surprisingly generous”, it’s a book for addicts and non-addicts alike. No doubt it was written with “honourable intentions”, said Rick Whitaker in The Guardian, but sadly it falls prey to a “fundamentalism that reckons sobriety an absolute good and intoxication a sure sign of weakness”. And it’s a message that in any case is undercut by Jamison’s writing. The early chapters, dealing with drunkenness, are “rollicking and fun”, whereas later the writing seems to “almost slur its speech”, lapsing frequently into sentimentality. “If a sincere white woman’s literary love letter to AA is what you’re craving, this is your book.” If not, you may want to look elsewhere.