Erica Reynolds's Reviews > Dry

Dry by Augusten Burroughs
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Aug 08, 09

Read in June, 2008

Why are we all so obsessed with the alcoholic memoir? I read this quick read for book group in under three hours - which was about all the time it deserved. The literary tradition of great intoxicated writers may fascinate those who never studied Beatnik literature or Hemingway in school. But to satisfy the niche of urban hipster- intellectuals who are looking for a step above Lindsay Lohan's faux-glam adventures in US Weekly, this book was just an edited down version of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, which I read on spring break at Canyon Ranch while detoxing from my own underage escapades.

Although Frey was too audacious (and unethical, according to Oprah in 2006 and the recent issue of Vanity Fair...I cannot believe we're still talking about it) in his attempts to be a great memoirist through booz and bold moves, we all know that truth really can be stranger than fiction(whether 100% real or partially embellished); and those who live to tell about it in a well-crafted way deserve credit. The one rule of good writing I learned in school, however, is: keep talk about digestion, bodily fluids, or any other vulgarities people don't want to read about to a minimum. This is drugstore prose.

If we reduce Burrough's memoir to the level of a "quickie" that's as cheaply satisfying as a Danielle Steel novel, then his account of addiction, if well-documented, should read with as much vim and vigor as if we were chain-smoking it. But it doesn't. Subtract all the bloated summary of ingesting, vomiting, or verbal headache, and all we get is flat character development, flat dialogue, and a brief account of rehab/institutionalization that does not even begin to compare with the world described to us in "Girl, Interruped" or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

This book's literary mediocrity is as cut and dry as a glass of Two Buck Chuck marked up to $14 - which is what I paid for this paperback.

The only part of the memoir that was interesting was the advertising part. How on earth did he survive a meeting with clients at the Met while openly intoxicated? Overcome the real challenge of returning from rehab to a boss who sent him away and then expects him to gush full creative brilliance on a German beer account, when alcohol had seemingly been the tour-de-force behind his sarcastic excess in the first place? Perhaps he blames corporate BS as the cause of his deterioration...but it's probably his messed up parenting - which is clearly the more interesting part of his troubled life, as documented in Running With Scissors. ("Interesting" because it was made into a movie - if we're talking commercial success.)

In the conclusion of Dry, his relationships fizzle, his significant other dies, and we are left with grotesque images of crack-cocaine and death that made me question why I was even bothering to finish this sophomoric and soporific "been there" "done that" Truth or Dare sharing. I felt like I'd forced myself to finish something that was all suds with little sustenance. Or stayed up for a party that was totally not worth it.


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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Katie Thanks for the spoiler :/ And after reading this review I'm thinking that being a "urban hipster intellectual" (whatever that means) would be a lot more comfortable than being a total book snob.


message 2: by Karen (new)

Karen I wish more people would see these books for what they are;Rubbish. That most are in the fiction shelves of the library says more than words ever could.


Katie And that means they can't be good? Or that they can't have anything to be entertained by or learned from in them?


Linda T For anyone who has experience with addiction, rehab or a loved one that's been through it this book is powerful, funny, heartbreaking and utterly believable. For those readers fortunate enough not to have traveled that road I suppose it would be like a city dweller reading a memoir written by an avid gardener. If you can't relate, you won't "get it" but that doesn't mean it's bad. It most likely means you simply don't understand.


Yasmine Niazi That was harsh.


Jennie James Frey is fiction


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