Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg (LentBooks 2012 #12)

I didn’t intend to add this book to my Lenten reading list, but I can never resist a good addiction memoir. Why is that? It seems odd for a person who’s never used or abused any mind-altering substance to be so drawn to stories of addiction, but I can’t pass one by. I could justify it by saying that many of the youth I work with are alcoholics or drug addicts and it helps me understand them better, but while that’s true, I think it really works the other way: I enjoy working with that population because I’m fascinated with the mindset of addiction, and how people manage the seemingly impossible task of breaking free. When a writer tells that story in a compelling and readable way, I can’t pass it by, so when I read an excerpt of Bill Clegg’s new book, 90 Days, in Newsweek magazine, I had to seek out his first book.

This is a simple story: a bright, talented young man with plenty of skeletons in his closet slides from heavy drinking and occasional drug use into hard-core crack addiction. The story of an epic crack binge that entirely derails Clegg’s life, ruins his business and his relationships, and drains his considerable bank account, is interspersed with scenes from his early life. There’s nothing in his childhood and youth that makes you go, “Aaaahhh, that’s why he became an addict,” and maybe that’s the point — sure, he had his troubles, but who doesn’t? Nothing ultimately determines who takes that deadly slide into addiction — choices made along the way certainly contribute, and so, no doubt, does trauma in the past and some ticking thing in the brain that can’t be controlled — but in the end, it happens, and Bill Clegg does a powerful job of describing what it’s like when it happens. There may not be anything new or startling here, and maybe, for those of us who aren’t addicts ourselves, reading books like this does have a kind of train-wreck voyeurism — but it’s certainly well-told, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes this kind of book.

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Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- memoir

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