A Reporter Examines His Addiction: Book Review

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The Night of the Gun


New York Times

columnist David Carr’s memoir that came out yesterday, has received tons of attention. This partly could be because the media is fascinated by its own, but it’s also because the book is absolutely riveting.

Carr has lived an extraordinary life – drug addict and woman beater, cancer survivor and single father of twin girls – that makes for great, if disturbing, reading. He holds nothing back as he tries to get a handle on his life, how he seemingly went from being one person to another one.

The reader learns about him snorting coke at work, smoking crack with his pregnant girlfriend, threatening his friends, smelling like vomit, forgetting where his car is (it is never seen again), choking his girlfriend, crawling on the floor looking for lost drugs, leaving his babies in the car while he did coke. It is the narrative of a downward descent and the trip back up – one we may have heard before, but compelling all the same. “As a friend of mine put it,” he writes, “‘Sure, it’s all been said, but it hasn’t been said by you.’” And he is one hell of a writer.

Carr’s process for writing this book is meticulous. Everyone’s memory is fallible, but Carr realizes that his is extremely so and comes up with a solution:

“When I set out to write a memoir, I decided to fact-check my life using the prosaic tools of journalism. For the past thirty years, give or take time served as a drunk and a lunatic, I have used those tools with alacrity. I decided to go back and ask the people who were there: the dealers I worked for, the friends I had, the women I dated, the bosses I screwed over. There would be police reports, mug shots from my short career as a crook, and some medical records from my serial treatments.”

What Carr finds, over and over again, is that he has constructed one narrative, but the “truth,” as close as he can get to it, is something else entirely. The memoir wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if Carr had sat at his desk going through his “memories.”

One of Carr’s goals is connecting Carr 20 years ago to the Carr of today – a sober, respected journalist with a family and home. How did he get here? Which one of those guys is he, really? In some ways, he’s both. “Two years of reporting and a lot of awkward conversations later, I realized that even though I live in a normal mid-century Colonial on a normal street in a normal town, that doesn’t mean I am too. I’m nice – friendly, even – but I am a maniac who simply enjoys the fruits of acting normal.” Sobriety allows him to enjoy those fruits and not do hideous things to people he loves (and, for that matter, doesn’t love).

While the first half of the book takes you through Carr’s addiction, the second half is about his treatment and redemption, of sorts, with a focus on his daughters, career and second marriage. I’ll admit to expecting this second part to hold less fascination than the first. But his story continues to interest. For one thing, the struggle never stops. Even after the last page, it isn’t over.

Carr didn’t quit drugging and then discover some dormant ability for journalism -- he worked his ass off throughout most of his addiction. He has always been smart and talented, and while he’s scared some people, many have rooted for him.

Add me to that number.

Cathy Matusow

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