booze and writing

i’m in the middle of reading parched, by heather king, about her 20-year stint as an alcoholic.

what i find interesting is the disconnect between her tight and truly “witty and entertaining” (publishers weekly) language on the one hand and on the other hand a storyline that now, that i’m at page 149, is still not going anywhere.

the fact that she eventually sobers up is pretty clearly hinted at in the beginning: there is a family intervention in the end and she gets “saved” (partly via religion, as is hinted again in the bible verses that are liberally used at the beginning of each chapter). so no story line and no surprise. just an endless recounting of being blue, lonely, drunk and unpleasant, of screwed-up friendships, lots of screwing, of working and drinking in countless restaurants, and lots of reading and lots of hangovers. that’s kind of interesting for 20, 30 pages but then it gets boring and you start wondering, sooooo …. when are you going to get to the point? is there a point?

but when you look at it page by page, this is really great stuff, like here, where she leaves her friend’s beauty parlor:

“Take this shampoo, Heathah, it’s a sample,” Sylvia said, handing me a full-size bottle of Pantene. “Brucie, wrap up those chocolates for her, we’ll never eat them all.” She was combing out and spraying one of her clients, an exhausted-looking soul with an Ace bandage wrapped around her elbow who left just before me. I trailed the woman downstairs. Just before hitting the street she paused to girlishly admire, in the reflection of the plate-glass door, her shapeless coat and work-worn face topped by a spun-glass halo of bright, pretty hair.

heather king, in a way, is the opposite of someone like robert a. heinlein, who is really not a very good writer in terms of language use but boy, are his stories ever full of twists and turns and ideas, ideas, ideas.

while there is humour in much of how heather king writes, a darker and more droning theme that runs through it is how she constantly berates her former alcoholic self. there is little tenderness, little compassion for that love-starved, lonely, lost little girl who just can’t find anything but booze to soothe her soul.

i wonder whether she is so stuck in this idea of “i was a bad, bad, bad person” that she cannot weave a story that reaches out and beyond, a story that might hold this reader’s interest? is she still in a stage of recovery where being riddled by guilt, remorse and disgust looms so large that there’s little else she can pay attention to? (errr … should i mention that she has become a catholic?)

nevertheless, it’s an elegant and easy read, and perhaps a good intro for someone who wants to learn what it’s like to be in the grips of addiction.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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