This is not just another addiction memoir. But don't worry—that's the point. Jamison's own story is told in fragments, interspersed with the stories of many others (names you already know, others the world never will), brilliantly structured much like the AA meetings that ultimately helped her get sober. Each story is a drop in the bucket, a part of the whole. It is Jamison's voice—unflinching, self aware—and not necessarily her story that captivates. She is not tone deaf to the experiences of others, which serves her well as she presents so many stories alongside her own. I was so ready to dismiss this book, but I simply couldn't. I couldn't put it down; nor could I put it out of my mind.
How--and why, and to what ends--do we tell stories about addiction and recovery? Whose stories get to be about the troubled genius, and who do we write off as a fiend, a criminal, or a bad mother? These are among the questions Leslie Jamison pursues in her far-reaching and gorgeously written new book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. Pivoting between memoir, biography, and literary criticism, Jamison draws on a host of sources (including her own experiences with drinking and sobriety) to interrogate the myths and the romance that cloud our view of the intersection of addiction and art.
“I've loved everything Leslie Jamison's written, but best of all so far is The Recovering, a memoir/history/criticism-hybrid that takes addiction and recovery as its subject. Every time I sat down with this book, I felt like I was in the company of my smartest friend, someone who knew all the right words for life's greatest pleasures and pains. Her book moves fluidly from personal remembrances to perfectly synthesized research into how and why people (herself and artists and others) elect to warp their consciousness with substances. The Recovering is a thorough and thoughtful look at many of our worst and some of our best tendencies, and Jamison's continually compelling style makes it a delight to read.”
— John Francisconi, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
"An astounding triumph . . . Profound . . . Achingly wise . . . A recovery memoir like no other." --Entertainment Weekly (A) "Riveting . . . Beautifully told." --Boston Globe "An honest and important book . . . Vivid writing and required reading." --Stephen King "Perceptive and generous-hearted . . . Uncompromising . . . Jamison is a writer of exacting grace." --Washington Post From the New York Times bestselling author of The Empathy Exams comes this transformative work showing that sometimes the recovery is more gripping than the addiction. With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself. Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction--both her own and others'--and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us. All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill. At the heart of the book is Jamison's ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace, as well as brilliant lesser-known figures such as George Cain, lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here. Through its unvarnished relation of Jamison's own ordeals, The Recovering also becomes a book about a different kind of dependency: the way our desires can make us all, as she puts it, "broken spigots of need." It's about the particular loneliness of the human experience-the craving for love that both devours us and shapes who we are. For her striking language and piercing observations, Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.
About the Author
Leslie Jamison is the author of the essay collection The Empathy Exams, a New York Times bestseller, and the novel The Gin Closet, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and the Oxford American, among others, and she is a columnist for the New York Times Book Review. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with her family.