cover image The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Leslie Jamison. Little, Brown, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-316-25961-3

The crawl back up to sobriety is as engrossing as the downward spiral in this unsparing and luminous autobiographical study of alcoholism. Novelist and essayist Jamison (The Empathy Exams) recounts her booze-sodden 20s, which she spent bouncing between Yale and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop—a time when she resorted to drinking because it blocked out her insecurities about herself and her relationships. Jamison’s recovery, with backsliding, is a grim affair as she fights a constant craving for alcohol. She joins Alcoholics Anonymous in her mid-20s, and while she finds the prosaic honesty and camaraderie at her AA meetings to be revelatory, she still dreads sobriety as “a string of empty evenings, a life lit by the sallow fluorescence of church-basement bromides rather than the glow of dive-bar neon signs.” Intertwined with her narrative are shrewd profiles of alcoholic writers—including John Berryman, Raymond Carver, The Lost Weekend writer Charles Jackson, and Jean Rhys—that probe the fraught link between drinking (and not drinking) and literary creativity. The dark humor, evocative prose, and clear-eyed, heartfelt insights Jamison deploys here only underscore her reputation as a writer of fearsome talent. (Apr.)