A Million Dry, Permanently Smashed Pieces
Of course it's been on a desktop sticky for months to write about my favorite scoopy genre of fiction--the addiction memoir. Girl, did you say fiction? Didn't you mean...? Wait for it.
I knew the Frey story depicted in A Million Little Pieces was fake. If you've ever known anyone who went through rehab, or was a passenger on a plane for that matter, you'd know it too. It felt fake, and was poorly written, and so as fiction it was a failure. As non-fiction, it was gritty and real. So, hey, whatever, no one has any integrity these days. Why should that stop someone from trying to sell a book? More than the lie, though, I was offended by the weird Capitalization throughout the book, and the two dimensional characters--the mafia don with a heart of gold, the boxer with a heart of gold, the hooker with the heart of gold, the beaver with the tail of... etc. But I was never going to do the research to find out. I mean, why? I got a job, I'm not tryin to hear that! Thank god the guys at The Smoking Gun did it for me. But I'm pretty sure most addiction memoirs are cross-genre amagams of fact and fiction, with the former being the least of the mix.
The addiction memoir tends to be a compendium of increasingly excitingly and dangerous experiences from the POV of a priviledged upper-middle class white person. They will tell you they are telling you this as a caution--don't try this at home!--but what they are really doing is bragging. Can you believe I drank a whole bottle of $10 champagne? My parents would be so ashamed that my addiction took me to those depths. I threw up all over my Marcs!! Eventually, at some point in the writing process, your editor is going to force you to up the ante, and that's where the fiction comes in. Falling asleep mid-blowjob becomes full-blown gay prostitution, and a warning from someone in the parking lot of the in-and-out becomes the time you killed a guy for looking at you funny.
I've read a lot of these, because I enjoy making myself angry. I used to read Dondi when I was a child for the same reason, and each word balloon would bring me closer to wanting to poke Dondi's little dot eyes outta his mushy, round cranium with a sharp no. 2 pencil. I read Dry, which was so boring that Augusten Burroughs had to make the HIV dude the focus of the book, because his own liquor drinking wasn't interesting enough. I read Rick Moody's The Black Veil, and all I can recall is some passages from a diary from the 18th century. And Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood? That girl doesn't even consider herself an alcoholic. That girl can't wipe the vomit off the shoes of my teenage friends, half of whom ended up hospitalized for the old "alcoholic coma" before 10th grade. That girl was no drunken than I ever was, and I never once considered that bile, bad sex, and not knowing where your bra was the next day were interesting topics for a book.
Most people's addictions are not that interesting, but if you want some juicy addiction prose, try Jerry Stahl's Permanent Midnight. He might be bragging too, but he tempers it with enough self-deprecation that you almost feel sorry for the guy.