Rachel's Reviews > Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood

Smashed by Koren Zailckas
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's review
Dec 24, 08

bookshelves: memoirs, drugs

What an interesting book. I'm not sure I buy it but it definitely made me think. This is a memoir of Zailckas' journey through alcohol abuse in her teens and early twenties. Her main argument is that society is telling young girls that excessive drinking is a normal life stage and a right of passage and she feels this is both untrue and damaging. She then details her very excessive drinking beginning in her teenage years (she had her stomach pumped at 16), through her college years in the Greek system and into NYC as a young graduate. There is no doubt that this girl had a SERIOUS drinking problem. I was a partier in my younger days but I never came close to this kind of lifestyle.
This is where the quandary begins for me. I see what she's saying and I've noticed it too-young people who have serious drinking problems and their friends and family laugh it off as part of a normal college experience. But this is the thing: drinking a lot IS a normal life stage for a lot of people. It's just that a certain percentage of young people are really just alcoholics, not people going through a stage. It's not as black and white as she wants it to be, and there's no easy way to gauge who's going to emerge as the problem drinker post-college. I think time usually tells and since Zailckas wrote this at 23 she didn't wait long enough to find out. She feels she was emotionally stunted from alcohol abuse and thinks all her drunk friends were too. I have a feeling she didn't ask them and if she did she would find her situation is more unique than she thinks.
Zailckas does not define herself as an alcoholic which is interesting. On one hand I think she refuses the word because, again, she wants people to understand the enormous number of young people that drink excessively and not have it dismissed as a minority phenomenon.
There is something more to it too. I have noticed that among upper middle class Gen Xers and younger there is a real hesitation to claim the "A" word. I have watched several people in my life have alcohol negatively impact their lives and yet they'll twist everything around to avoid using the word alcoholic. They know that their drinking is a problem but they will say they have a "bad/complicated relationship with alcohol" or "I'm not physically addicted so I'm not an alcoholic" or they just need to "stop drinking, but not quit, that's different." It's a weird semantics game and I think it shows that the recovery movement is failing a certain sector of society.

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