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Daphne Merkin

Rejecting the Link Between Creativity and Alcoholism


By all rights, Leslie Jamison’s new memoir, The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath shouldn’t work. For one thing, it rehashes a much-told story—that of addiction and its allure—and the book goes on for longer than is ideal, especially about the author’s on-again, off-again relationship with a boyfriend. There are places that should be clear that are fuzzy—indeed, parts of the book seem willfully vague, especially those about Jamison’s privileged background and stellar academic trajectory—and other places where too many details are piled on. One could argue that the narrative scoots around without a clear thread pulling it together and that the biographical particulars of well-known drunks (Jean Rhys, Malcolm Lowry, John Berryman, and Raymond Carver) are disclosed as though for the first time.


And yet The Recovering bursts with insight on how we scramble together our identities, told in a voice that manages by some literary legerdemain to be both winsomely idiosyncratic and resoundingly collective. Jamison, who is the author of a novel, The Gin Closet, and a lauded collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, is preternaturally canny about the so-called “confessional” genre she has chosen to write in, sidestepping most of its potential pitfalls—such as an atmosphere of claustrophobic solipsism—while retaining its aspects of immediacy and beguilingly unhip self-revelation. “Truth be told, I wasn’t sure exactly how to do coke,” she confides. “I knew you snorted it, but I didn’t know what that looked like.”


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The New York Times | July 5, 2018

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