The Recovering is a memoir about alcohol and how it runs rampant in the lives of writers and artists throughout history. It’s seen through the lens of the book’s author, Leslie Jameson as she navigates her way through life and the being drunk and being in recovery.
Jamieson clearly has a knack for the written word. She’s the author of another book, the lauded Empathy Exams, which made the New York Times bestsellers list.
This book is a blend of a cutting personal memoir, a cultural history of alcohol in America, literary criticism and reportage. Jamieson weaves her own story in parallel with the stories of well-known writers, musicians and artists throughout history and their struggles with booze.
She traverses the lives of famous people like Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace, John Berryman and Jean Rhys.
She puts the needle in deeply to staunch the wound of her own life. In the process, she taps into her own endless well of sadness and loneliness. The poignant writing at times becomes story of the reader’s loneliness, heartbreak, self-hatred, anger, fear and whatever else.
Jamieson is a highly skilled and lyrical writer, but I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing in this book. It was difficult to put my finger on it. The book just seemed to ramble on and on and had too much of a reformist, lecturing tone to it towards the end. Also it was separated into clear and different stages of drunkenness and recovery.
Certainly, the parts I raced through with relish were the drunk parts. Because after all, for most people who reflect back on drunken escapades, we could all say – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Stories of drunken squalor and decadence are far more entertaining to read, for sure. That’s telling, perhaps about me. But the stories of what comes afterwards, the recovery stories were less than compelling, more beige than fluorescent. There were moments of brilliance, elegance and insight in this book, but there were moments too where I just couldn’t wait for it to end because I was bored with it.