Saturday, February 4, 2012
Book Review: Writers On The Edge
A compendium of tough prose and poetry about addiction.
Here’s a book I’m delighted to promote unabashedly. I even wrote a jacket blurb for it. I called it an “honest, unflinching book about addiction from a tough group of talented writers. These hard-hitters know whereof they speak, and the language in which they speak can be shocking to the uninitiated—naked prose and poetry about potentially fatal cravings the flesh is heir to—drugs, booze, cutting, overeating, depression, suicide. Not everybody makes it through. Writers On The Edge is about dependency, and the toll it takes, on the guilty and the innocent alike.”
I am happy to stand by that statement, content to note that this collection of prose and poetry on the subject of addiction and dependency by 22 talented writers, with an introduction by Jerry Stahl of “Permanent Midnight” junky fame, includes a number of names familiar to me. That makes it all the easier to recommend this book—I know some of the talent. Take James Brown, a professor in the M.F.A program at Cal State San Bernardino, the book’s co-editor, who offers an excerpt from his excellent memoir, This River. James is no stranger to the subject, having pulled out of a drug and alcohol-fueled nosedive that would have felled lesser mortals for good. “Even though you’ll always be struggling with your addiction, and may wind up back in rehab,” Brown writes, “at least for now, if only for this day, you are free of the miracle potions, powders and pills. If only for this day, you are not among the walking dead.” Or my friend Anna David, who is an editor at The Fix, an online addiction and recovery magazine to which I frequently contribute, and author of several books, including Party Girl and Falling for Me. Anna poignantly recalls “my shock over the power than booze had… it was the greatest discovery of my life.” And Ruth Fowler, another Fix contributor and author of Girl Undressed, delivers up a brilliantly detached story of her life as an addict on both coasts and just about everywhere else, which begins with the line, “I gravitated to the fucked up writers.”
Then there are the contributors I don’t know but wish I did, like co-editor Diana Raab, a registered nurse and award-winning poet, as well as co-author of Writers and Their Notebooks, who offers a poem to her grandmother: “Your ashen face and blond bob/disheveled upon white sheets/on the stretcher held by paramedics/lightly grasping each end, and tiptoeing.” Or another poet, B. H. Fairchild, author of the marvelous collection, Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest: “When I would go into bars in those days/the hard round faces would turn/to speak something like loneliness/but deeper, the rain spilling into gutters/or the sound of a car pulling away/in a moment of sleeplessness just before dawn.”
And more: Frederick Barthelme, author of Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss. Stephen Jay Schwartz, best-selling crime novelist and former director of development for filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen. Writers Rachel Yoder, Victoria Patterson, David Huddle, and Scott Russell Sanders. Etc. This collection is a rich brew of essay, poetry, and memoir. A tough book, a brutal book, a real heartbreaker with grit. Some people get stronger and rise; some don’t. It is a thoughtful and creative compendium of addiction stories, and some of them will surprise you. All of them are solidly written, laid out with an unrelenting realism.
Here it is, these authors are saying. This is how it plays out. Unforgettable stuff.