The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermathby Published 15 Jan 2019
|The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath.pdf|
|Publisher||Back Bay Books|
With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself. Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction--both her own and others'--and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us. All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill.
At the heart of the book is Jamison's ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace, as well as brilliant lesser-known figures such as George Cain, lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here. Through its unvarnished relation of Jamison's own ordeals, The Recovering also becomes a book about a different kind of dependency: the way our desires can make us all, as she puts it, "broken spigots of need." It's about the particular loneliness of the human experience-the craving for love that both devours us and shapes who we are
"The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath" Reviews
This was an interesting book, and one I enjoyed. It is a memoir of the author’s addiction and coming to sobriety alongside a cultural history of writers and addiction. The breath of Jamison’s knowledge on this subject is impressive if, at times, overwhelming. She lovingly details several writers famous for their drinking, and the creative work that rose from that drinking or was stymied. She also looks at some of the sociopolitical implications of addiction, and there are some interesting ways in which she identifies her subject position/privilege and recognizes that her privilege allows her to have an addiction story that people with less privilege would never be granted. "My skin is the right color to permit my intoxication," she writes. And it’s good that she does this because she writes about attending the Iowa Writers Workshop and Yale and traveling the world and a fully funded education and a loving relationships/family and writing successes paired with writing failures. Certainly, she is also grappling with the problems we all deal with, and with the challenges of addiction, but the suffering feels gilded. That’s not a fair thing to say but I suspect many readers will have that reaction. The writing is beautiful. There are descriptive phrases that are simply breathtaking. The prose is dense but very readable. At times the book is kind of a hot mess but... I couldn’t put the book down. The mess works. And more than that, I was genuinely moved by how accurately Jamison captures the experience of addiction, the hallows we all try to fill with one thing or another. Highly recommend.
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.
Astute and empathetic, Leslie Jamison reinvents the traditional recovery memoir in an attempt to challenge the dominant understanding of addiction as an apolitical and private experience. Jamison juxtaposes several genres against each other, without mixing them together; the book is a collage of memoir, biography, literary analysis, and cultural history. The author's wide-ranging scope affords her the chance to flesh out her argument that addiction always is social, not just personal, by placing her experience of recovery as a wealthy white woman against the backdrop of American attitudes toward substance (ab)use in general. The critical move decenters Jamison's journey toward sobriety, and it not only saves the book from reading as ultra-privileged and tone deaf but also allows its author to make several fascinating claims. Especially of note is how Jamison frames the ways in which America has mythologized the figure of the intoxicated white male genius as inextricable from those in which it has criminalized and demonized Black and Latinx addiction.
At its best, The Recovering is highly engaging: Jamison's prose is eminently readable, her portrait of herself multifaceted, and her thesis provocative. But the brilliance isn't consistent. Even accounting for the author’s sprawling focus, the book could have benefitted from tighter editing. The close readings of the literature of addiction become increasingly uninspired, the profiles of famous writers and artists tedious, the reportage sparse, the autobiography sloppily structured. The flaws aren't so egregious that they make The Recovering not worth reading, but the book would have been much more effective were the main text about 100 pages shorter.
Audiobook....read by the author Leslie Jamison. ( I liked Leslie’s voice & I’m guessing the physical book would be useful to own for some readers)
First off ... I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t even drink. But.... maybe if I did I’d look as gorgeous as author Leslie Jaminson? Can I just say - she is ‘stunningly beautiful’....
Geee - GORGEOUS! Harvard Grad...Phd from Yale, writer, graduate from the Iowa’s writing workshop....
and oh yeah - in her spare time .....alcoholic/with a history of an eating disorder.
There were times I was bored ....( could be me — The Page-Turning Mystery Thriller book I was reading was fighting for my attention)....
But....this is an excellent - well written- well researched book - I WAS INTERESTED MORE OFTEN THAN BORED ....,but being honest - nothing about craving alcohol is on my radar- of- experience.
Candy? Yep....I used to love it more than life itself. But ....no longer ( I’m now a no fun reasonable sugar eater.....as in Less is better)....
.......but I could use AA meetings to get me to follow an autoimmune diet like little Ms. Perfect. I’m afraid I’m a Paleo-failure.
Is it sinful that I eat dairy and gluten.....but have ulcers in my mouth? Maybe there is a twelve step program for Paleo- no sugar- no dairy - no gluten- little grains - no fun diets for people like me? - people who are addicted to *NO* RULES about eating? EVEN IF WE WOULD BECOME MORE HEALTHY? Bone broth? Every day like my sister? Sounds awful — and who wants to spend time making it? Yep...I have a new type of addiction....( to eating and living in our modern world filled with everything bad for our health)
This book is not a normal memoir- ( Leslie’s addiction, relapse, the sensation of being drunk, AA meetings, her love life, research, quotes from other Genius Addicts & history is the heart of the ‘story’), but the context for this book is much bigger than ‘her story’.....SHE IS UP TO SOMETHING IMPORTANT —-AA OFFICIALS might learn a few things useful!!! She’s out to spill the beans that AA is not all- get-all!
She talks about ‘meaningful’ healing ... and radically restructuring treatment. Alcoholic anonymous being too limiting. I AGREE!
In the Author’s Notes she talks about the medical medications along with AA meetings that are proven more effective than AA alone. Plus ‘other’ choices.
The book structure is appealing for this topic: works nicely. Each chapters is titled with a theme for that chapter:
Wonder: first time drinking buzz stories
Abandon: Freshman year at Harvard - lonely - starving herself - drinking
Blame: ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHAPTERS ... in this section she talks about whether or not alcoholism is an illness, or a crime. America can’t seem to decide on the label... and it’s constantly changing depending on the situation. Some people get pity… Other people get blamed. Male drunks are thrilling, white females are bad moms, blacks are punished, celebrities get fancy recovery resorts. Lots more in this section about the laws of drunk driving - drugs - etc.
Lack: Leslie was at Yale working on her PHD ..... but she began to have new rules about her drinking.
Shame.... oh yes....cheating on your lover always contributes to a great night’s sleep
THIS IS WHEN DRINKING FELT GOOD.....A very honest chapter about how drinking was way more fun then not.
Surrender....don’t expect me to share everything ...’surrender’.....use your imagination
Thirst .... not for soda pop.
Return: Leslie went seven months of being sober. The man she was in love with believed she could drink differently this time because she convinced him. She was a mature adult - A dignified woman who could drink socially now! Ha....see how that works!
Confession: interesting karma & a car crash chapter
Humbling: I liked this section about WHY TELL OUR STORIES ( I love people’s stories - makes me feel normal)
Chorus — writers will like this. A wonderful fairytale with 4 different endings in this section is so good - I listened twice. You can choose your favorite ending to the story.
Salvage: 2nd chance. Nice!
Reckoning ok......These later chapters are some of the best.
Homecoming ......A great story about a man and his two lives - sober and drunk
Authors Notes: EXCELLENT ....good information- useful for anyone who knows anyone who has struggled with addictions.
THERE ARE 100 ways to SKIN A CAT....... yikes .....but who would want to skin one?
THERE ARE MANY PATHS TO HEALING ..... yes! I believe that too!
THIS IS A *SHORT* REVIEW FOR A BOOK ALMOST 600 pages long ....
It reads FAST!!!!! Too long of a review? ...’sorry’!
Cheers - with Mango Juice to my friends!
Let me start by sharing that I consider Leslie Jamison a brilliant, brilliant writer. The Recovering is an intelligent, thorough book about addiction that includes cultural history, literary criticism, journalistic reportage, and memoir. Jamison asks thought-provoking questions and explores complex topics with a fresh, sharp eye for nuance, such as: whether our stories need to be unique for them to matter, the extent we all go to fill our lives with some meaning or comfort, and the role of addiction in creative people's artistic process. She integrates her intellectual insight with an empathy and kindness so important for someone writing about addiction. I also appreciated how she acknowledged her privilege, recognizing that as a white woman, she has a platform to share her journey and the color of her skin will protect her from a lot of judgement, whereas more marginalized people do not have that same armor or access to resources.
The back and forth between memoir and literary analysis just did not work for me. Again, I consider Jamison such a literary star, and I hope others enjoy this book. But the transitions from other's stories to her own felt jarring to me. I wanted to stay more within her narrative and feel connected to her story without interruptions, or, at least more connections between these writers' stories and her own. I feel like the literary analysis distanced us from Jamison, especially for people who may already find it hard to connect with her based on her elite academic credentials. I wanted more of the integration of memoir and analysis and reportage I read in The Empathy Exams , her stunning first essay collection.
Overall, I liked The Recovering and would recommend it to those who know what they're getting themselves into and want to try it anyway. I applaud Jamison for her author's note - which shows how she takes the topic of addiction very seriously - as well as her courage and compassion in sharing her own story in a society that still highly stigmatizes addiction. I'd be curious to read and think more about her addiction to romance, a topic I wrote about on my own blog, as her journey with Dave paralleled her addiction to alcohol in such a consistent way. I look forward to reading her next book.
I'm a recovering addict who was looking forward to this book, but found it infuriating, exploitative,narcissistic, and bougie. While Jamison's writing is lyrical, descriptive, and beautiful; her story lacks credibility. She insists that she wants to write a different kind of recovery story and has the audacity to compare her life to real addicts like Billie Holiday and Charles Jackson. Jamison amplifies normal college binge drinking experiences for dramatic purposes. She carefully catalogues her fancy drinking and cheese trays in Italy and Chile and at Yale, Harvard, Iowa. She makes her typical college girl drinking more dramatic to try to relate to drunken heroes. Jamison writes, "Cliches were one of the hardest parts of my early days in recovery. I cringed their singing cadences." What?! Most really addicts and alcoholics are having physical withdrawals, DTs, puking their brains out, in prison, detox, or rehab. Jamison practiced writing her recovery "speech" on note cards before AA meetings because she wanted to have 'the best story."
She says she is an alcoholic and elevates herself above working class people at meetings and people who actually have real addictions unlike her. Treating meetings like some sort of writing workshop or experiment. A Slate Review echoed my very same sentiments. "Recovery demands humility, but how can a 500 page book be anything but an assertion of ego?"
As Slate said: "Nevertheless, through the scrim of this litany of ordeals, the alert reader can detect another possible and very different index, one made of features that Jamison chooses not to emphasize: “had a cool, accomplished, loving mom,” “Harvard undergrad,” “Iowa Writers’ Workshop at age 21,” “summer in Italy,” “Ph.D. from Yale,” “published first novel at age 27.” And even though the time period recounted in The Recovering does not include them, an informed reader could add a few more highlights: “New York Times best-seller at age 31” (2014’s The Empathy Exams) and “director of the nonfiction program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.”
Overall, I guess the book just made me angry because I felt that Jamison is not an alcoholic or addict, saw that the topic was "hot" or "popular," and she exploited others just to get stories for her book. She practically admits that is why she went to her first meeting. I don't even like to go to meetings because people like her ruin it. Us rock bottom people that actually lost things to drinking and don't have 4 elite college degrees or best sellers don't need people like her eavesdropping and swooping in to try to fit in because she's bored with her life. Don't read this book. Read Lidia Yuknavitch. Read Mary Karr. Read Melissa Febos or Nick flynn. They are real addicts.