Julie Christine's Reviews > The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

The Recovering by Leslie Jamison
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My feelings about Leslie Jamison's The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath are sprawling and messy, deeply personal and intensely curious, just like this book. I couldn't put it down and I couldn't wait for it to end so I could begin breathing again. I read it in search of answers, I read it to be angry, to feel morally superior, to have a reason for my outrage. I read it to feel empathy.

The Recovering is an exploration of the mythology of addiction and creativity-that the latter depends on the depth of the former, that the two are inextricably linked. By weaving the narrative of her own addictions with those of famous artists, mostly male authors writing in the booze genre (e.g. Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, David Foster Wallace, John Cheever), Jamison delivers an encyclopedic memoir of a literary alcoholic.

Because the nature of memoir is to reveal yourself in all your raw truthiness, I feel okay making a personal criticism. It's awfully hard to grasp the depth of pain and despair of an uber-privileged young white woman educated at Harvard and Yale, launched as a writer at the celebrated Iowa Writers' Workshop in her early twenties, achieving significant professional and creative success before age thirty. . . relatively stable childhood, loving family . . . perhaps the expectations of success were so high that her early eating disorders, the episodes of cutting, combined with a hereditary predisposition toward addiction, tipped her toward the bottle. Perhaps a highly intelligent mind sought the extreme as a way to counter boredom, to take the edge off racing thoughts that sliced through contentment and complacency. Some people cliff dive. Others snort coke. That's an over-simplification, but I believe Jamison sought to round out the thinness and occasional flippancy of her own story with a multitude of famous and forgotten addicts. She shares not only the research of tortured artists (Billy Holiday, Amy Winehouse), but the stories gleaned from her AA-meeting comrades-the mothers and husbands and sorority girls who wobbled from blackout to blackout, and rode the rollercoaster of recovery and relapse. She also includes an intelligent and thoughtful examination of U.S. drug enforcement policy and the modern history of addiction treatment, from the post-Prohibition vilification of Americans of color that constitutes the systemic racism on which this country is built, to the cult-like nature of 12-step programs.

The greatest compliments I've received about my novel The Crows of Beara have been from readers whose lives are touched by addiction. I wrote my character Annie and her struggles with alcoholism with great trepidation. I sought to portray her and her journey in all honesty and depth, knowing that I had not walked that same road; my observations and encounters with loved ones and friends informed my writing. Having read The Recovering, I marvel. It seems there was a hand guiding mine, a force that knew I had to get it right. And now, partnered to a man who spent many agonizing years trying to free someone he loved from her own prison of addiction, I seek understanding and forgiveness.

Leslie Jamison pulled herself out of destruction and into recovery in fairly short order, a high-functioning alcoholic who was buffered from the physical and economic ravages of addiction by her youth, support systems, luck and privilege. Her gift is an extraordinary ability with words that brings us the stories of others not so fortunate, so that we may learn and empathize, and see that the creative life need not be romanticized and held afloat by what remains at the bottom of a bottle.
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Reading Progress

July 15, 2018 – Shelved
July 15, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 27, 2018 – Started Reading
August 3, 2018 – Shelved as: read-2018
August 3, 2018 – Shelved as: social-political-commentary
August 3, 2018 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
August 3, 2018 – Shelved as: best-of-2018
August 3, 2018 – Shelved as: writing-companions
August 3, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Camelia Rose "Perhaps a highly intelligent mind sought the extreme as a way to counter boredom, to take the edge off racing thoughts that sliced through contentment and complacency. " that's my observation too.


Julie Christine Camelia Rose wrote: ""Perhaps a highly intelligent mind sought the extreme as a way to counter boredom, to take the edge off racing thoughts that sliced through contentment and complacency. " that's my observation too."
Thank you for the comment, Camelia. I look forward to your review.


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