Wednesday, August 12, 2009
A (Belated) Review of "The Los Angeles Diaries"
A powerful—and true—memoir of addiction.
I’ll admit it: I don’t like drug memoirs. I didn’t like drug memoirs even before James Frey blew up the whole genre by telling a heartfelt story about addiction that turned out to be a tissue of lies.
But The Los Angeles Diaries by James Brown transcends all that. I’ve never read a better true story about addiction. It’s also one of the best modern autobiographies I have ever read, addiction notwithstanding. In addition to having been an alcoholic and a meth head, James Brown is a very talented writer, the author of four novels, and it shows.
First published in 2003, The Los Angeles Diaries is a spare, utterly harrowing account of the author’s experience in a family marked by a history of virulent alcoholism. Brown’s unvarnished truth-telling about addiction is evident early on: “I know there’s no excuse for getting drunk when you’re supposed to be home with your family and I wish knowing this would stop me from doing it. I wish that’s all it took. That I could will it to happen. But it doesn’t work that way, it never has, and in my state of mind, at this particular moment, I can’t imagine living without it.”
While offering up memorable sketches of his boyhood in Los Angeles, Brown paints a devastating picture of the “denial and rage” that characterize full-blown addiction. He deals with the suicide of family members, divorce, the neglect of his children—all of it caused by addiction—without a shred of self-justification. It is, he writes, “a constant quest for more when there can never be enough.”
Interspersed throughout are the author’s mordantly funny adventures in the screen trade, as book after book is optioned for the movies, taken apart and ultimately scrapped before reaching the screen. However, we are never far from the author’s chilling revelation: “Never underestimate the power of denial.”
I can’t improve on the review that appeared in Washington Post Book World: “It’s the balance of agony and grace, of course, that makes life so ferociously interesting. Brown has perfectly captured that balance in his unpretentious, very profound book.”
Inspiring, witty, and bleak, all at the same time, James Brown’s book will appeal to anyone with an interest in addiction—and anyone who enjoys tough, spare prose.
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