Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Dry by Augusten Burroughs

I read Running With Scissors, and I don't remember disliking it, but it did feel too much like a story, life with the edges rounded off. It's hard to say why I can think that about a book with the kinds of things that happen in it that do, but it was just a little too people-pleasing, a little too neat, even when the subject matter was difficult.

Dry came up on one of my lists many years later, and I had no particular resistance to reading it. I wasn't falling over myself to do so, but not resistant. Now I've read it, and I'm sitting down to write the review, and I'm not at all sure what I want to say.

I think I liked Dry more than Running with Scissors, but at the same time, there wasn't that gut punch of connection you get with the best memoirs. Then again, I've never struggled with addiction, having always been far too stressed about being out of control of my own body to venture very far into substance-related waters.

Still, this book is not the shapely narrative I expected, both from the first book, and from the shape of the narrative we've come to know through media portrayals of addiction. It felt informative to have that narrative challenged, made messier, made apparent that these are not one-size-fits-all stories of life with addiction.

So yes, this story is a memoir of Burroughs struggle with addiction, primarily alcohol, during his years as a marketing executive. It captures the justifications he told himself, with the reader dragged into that point of view, and only realizing as Burroughs does, the behaviours that are propping him up.

And then it's relatively easy. He goes to rehab, discovers he does have a problem, comes home, and manages to stay sober for a long time without really having to put a ton of effort into it. Almost decides he doesn't need support anymore. (Books like these end up being virtual paeans to AA.) But of course, life doesn't give you long easy stretches very often.

I've kind of run out of things to say. It's a straightforward book in many ways, with a dear friend who is dying of AIDS as the background for all the things he was too scared or too messed up or too drunk to do. Pighead ends up carrying all the regrets, and in many ways, that's what this book is about.

So why do I say I don't think it'll stay with me? I'm not sure. It's interesting, but lacks that next step of a memoir where it really grabbed me, made me think about people and human nature, rather than just the experiences of the author. I think of Jeannette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? and how powerful that book got, and this book feels like the first half of Winterson's memoir, the lead-up to something I'd never read before, dark and powerful. The first half isn't bad. But it's going deeper that gets great.

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