Have You Read?: Editor puts on a writing clinic with rehab memoir
October 13, 2008
Substance abuse and recovery are practically a journalistic tradition, but author David Carr’s genius idea for “Night of the Gun” stands as a ballsy testament to honesty.
Carr’s memoir seeks to succeed where James Frey face-planted with “A Million Little Pieces,” with the newsman applying the vigor of a good reporter to his own wasted years. The former newspaper and magazine writer and editor conducted painful interviews with friends and family – as well as former lovers and dealers – to put the memories together, and a Web site contains documents and files corroborating his narrative of his trip down what he calls the “hobbit hole.”
It’s courageous, honest, uplifting and inspiring, but it does raise a couple of issues.
First, Frey’s gaps in reporting notwithstanding, “A Million Little Pieces” remained compellingly uncomfortable all the way through. Deprived of the the dark allure of the downward spiral, “Night of the Gun” starts to lose a little steam when Carr turns his attention to being a stand-up dad and writing a gooshy column about his kids for a family magazine. Certainly, authors injecting cocaine into their eyeballs aren’t the preference of every reader, but maybe there’s a reason Hunter Thompson’s work continues to be popular after his death, even as readers spurned “A Million Little Pieces.”
The other question came to me when Carr wrote about his return to work, newly sober: The author comes off as a bit more of a nutter than an effective manager, even when he was working the steps instead of inhaling mass quantities of drugs. After all, Carr admits to sexual harassment, assaulting an ex by biting her bottom lip, and using his recovery nomenclature to badger his staff into behaving like a well-run clinic. Can you imagine working for this guy whose best characteristic was a pit-bull intensity when he was a reporter?
I’m not going to burn down my masters’ house with stories about the losers, boozers and heroes I’ve worked with over 12 years in community newspapers, but I imagine I know exactly what it’s like to work for a sober martinet who turned his own newsroom into a half-ass halfway house. By the same token, I’m surprised that Carr name-drops a few of his famous friends, including one of the most infamous fallen reporters of the past few years. As a side note, another one of the papers where I’ve worked had an intern who had Jayson Blair as a teaching aide at Maryland.
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The memoir of addiction and recovery is a show-stopper, but Carr pulls his own best punch by cautioning those in recovery not to read addiction memoirs. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale for working journalists: It’s a better job for functioning substance abusers than recovering ones.
– Dan Thomas doesn’t own a television and writes for Lake Tahoe Action.