I don’t know what is about addiction memoirs that I am drawn to. But I just finished Dry by Augusten Burroughs this morning, and it occurred to me that I’ve read quite a few of these types of memoirs over the past several years. Of course I’m drawn to memoir in general. My first non-fiction class pretty much solidified that on day one, but there is something about the brutal honesty of these stories of addiction that really appeal to me. I’m sure some people think it has to do with “redemption” stories, but I don’t find addiction memoirs redemptive. I find them realistic. There is no guarantee that these people will continue therapy or stay on the wagon. As I mentioned in my previous post about Mary Karr’s Lit, what I liked most about the book was that she’s a work in progress. This is also how Dry ends. And whether you’re and addict or not, well we’re all works in progress.
I did not read Running With Scissors, I listened to it on CD while driving back and forth to Kentucky while I was getting my MFA. And while this may sound stupid, I didn’t realize how disturbing that book was until I read Dry. As I was telling R last night, because of the way Burroughs writes, I don’t think the horror of his situation sank in till I revisited it in Dry. For example, he refers to his rape and relationship with a pedophile. And while I consciously remember all this from Running With Scissors, I felt it more when I read Dry. The book is funny and heartbreaking. I read it in three days and would highly recommend it.
Dry did call something to mind that I’ve mulled over and will probably continue to mull over forever. What’s the deal with self loathing and writers? Even as I ask this question, all these cliches come to mind. I remember all the questions I get from my students in intro to creative writing class: Why do all good writers commit suicide? Why are they all alcoholics/drug addicts?
Some of them find all of this sexy. They want to be the brooding, skinny, chain smoking cliche. However, whenever I think about the writers that I love that fell victim to their pain (Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Virgina Woolf, Anne Sexton and so on) I just feel sad. What could they given us if they had lived?