Mike Van Campen's Reviews > The Night of the Gun

The Night of the Gun by David Carr
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's review
Dec 02, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: advance-reading-copy, amazon-vine

When I first read about this book I thought: Do we really need another book about an individual's battle with drugs and alcohol? It seems that every month there is a new addict memoir. What intrigued me about Carr's book was his technique, a clear reaction to the scandal surrounding James Frey's memoir exposed as addiction fiction. Carr decides to use his journalism skills to investigate his life as an addict. He does research reading police reports, news articles, letters, diaries, etc. and conducts numerous interviews to see how his memories of several past incidents jive with his memory of them.

As he investigates, he discovers that crucial pieces of the story of his life were not as he remembers. This is not surprising given the state he was in when they occurred (drunk and stoned and more). The fact that most of the people he interviews were in the same state also means their memories are equally suspect. Most disturbing are the pieces of documentary evidence, including medical records and police reports, that point to entire incidents that Carr has no memory of. The whole exercise is quite interesting as an examination of memory and how we choose to construct our own stories.

The narrative arc follows other similar works I have read. The beginning is all about the addiction; middle section on the epiphany or moment when the addict knows he has to change; final section is about life post-recovery. The very thing that makes this original--the journalistic attempt to verify or correct memories--proves to be the book's biggest problem. Every time a new character in his life is introduced, the reader can expect the second half of the chapter to be a modern-day interview with that person. It all gets to be a bit contrived and forced after a while and the constant jumping from past to present tends to interrupt any real narrative rhythm or coherence.

Another issue some readers might have with this book is that Carr is far from a sympathetic character for the first two hundred pages (and he knows it). Not only is he a drunk and a junkie but he repeatedly strikes women in his life. There were several times during the early part of the book, where I found myself thinking, Why do I care about this jerk?

Even with these criticisms, Carr's story is compelling enough that you keep reading. And, Carr is an excellent writer who paces the story quite well. He is attuned to a reader who might grow disgusted with his antics/attitude and--at just the right moment--foreshadows the changes to come, which keeps interest from flagging. Despite my early reaction to the book and its self-centered, self-obsessed narrator, I found that he not only kept me reading but had won me over by the end.
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