Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Night of The Gun by David Carr

It had been a very long time since I thought about reading a book on addiction when I received an e-mail about reviewing The Night of the Gun, a story by NY Times writer David Carr.

So, I sat. I stared at the book for a week not knowing if I was ready to dive into someone elses personal account of addiction for fear of rehashing my own. I only knew David Carr from reading his work in The New Yorker. My knowledge was limited. Still, I did not Google him. Did not read any other reviews. I knew this book would impact a part of my life, a part that I wasn't sure I wanted to think about. And that itself scared me from picking it up. Finally, a quiet weekend on the farm came along and I began reading. Twenty hours later, after little sleep, feeble dog walks and minimal sustenance, I finished quite possibly one of the best addiction memoirs I have every read.

The premise of the book is based on David Carr's experience as a journalist intertwined with his life as an addict. He has gone back to "fact check" his former life, whether from lapsed memory or the need we have in recovery to make sense of our past experiences. The result of his fact checking leads to the telling of a man who is able to do something most of us in recovery would both love and loathe; he is confronting who he was and how he came to many different points in his life. He is connecting a murky past with his more clarified present. And in doing so, he recounts life as an addict and the lives his addictions affected with detailed honesty.

Carr writes:
Even if I had amazing recall, and I don't, recollection is often just self-fashioning. Some of it is reflexive, designed to bury truths that cannot be swallowed, but other "memories" are just redemption myths writ small. Personal narrative is not simply opening up a vein and letting the blood flow toward anyone willing to stare. The historical self is created to keep dissonance at bay and render the subject palatable in the present.
This is a primary factor in life as a recovering addict, where we look at the truths of our lives as we are able to handle them. When we suddenly realize our story is less a narrative than a complex and deeply rooted journey of self perception. Carr captures this in every chapter. The almost third party distance he keeps in the tonality of the book captures the way an addict lives their life, slightly disconnected. Yet, there is realness to the pain and suffering that after I was done reading, the emotions ran hard and deep.

I will not recap the elements or other characters within the book. They are all pivotal and well developed. But, to review them does not give justice. It unfolds with great synchronicity and the book itself is the invitation. For those in recovery, like myself, I could see my own behaviors. I could vicariously go through my own fact checking to assign some semblance to the tornado of drama that preceded the calm.

The Night of the Gun is a serious read. For those in recovery, thinking about it, out of it, around it or not in it at all. It's real. It's honest. And, while the ending is happier but not fluff, you know that Carr's life will continue to be immersed in the struggles of a recovering addict. And he conveys his thoughts, his intentions and his actions with brutal honesty, or dishonesty that comes with being who we are.

I am not an enthusiastic or adept liar. Even so, can I tell you a true story about the worst day of my life? No. To begin with, it was far from the worst day of my life. And those who were there swear it did not happen the way I recall, on that day and on many others. And if I can't tell a true story about one of the worst days of my life, what about the rest of those days, that life, this story?

This book takes the lies that we all tell in our own lives as addicts. The writing allows us a glimpse of what would happen if we could go back to every person in our past and ask them for the truth. And Carr conveys both the lies and the truth in such a way that, when finished reading, I actually forgave myself for all the people I had hurt. And that is one of the biggest accomplishments we can notch into the great big recovery belt strapped around our waists.
For more information, click on the book above, or go to http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=625091
David Carr's NY Times Magazine article, "Me and My Girls": http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/20/magazine/20Carr-t.html


Anonymous said...

I saw this book as well, and wondered if it was worth a read. Thanks for the review. Now I just need to find time to read it!

Oscar said...

"The almost third party distance he keeps in the tonality of the book captures the way an addict lives their life, slightly disconnected. Yet, there is realness to the pain and suffering that after I was done reading, the emotions ran hard and deep."

The disconnect that one (read: I) feel in recovery is so difficult to reconcile.

On one hand I want to divorce myself from my reprehensible behavior and analyze it from a distant, clinical perspective.

On the other, it is, after all MY reprehensible behavior that I have to own.

Good post, thanks.