Thursday, August 13, 2015

book review: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg

The basics: Bill Clegg was a successful literary agent who spiraled downward with a devastating crack addiction. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is a glimpse into what crack addiction looks like for a privileged white man in New York City.

My thoughts: I have an odd fascination with drug memoirs. I appreciate them for providing a window into a world I don't want to visit in real life, but I'm critical of them for attempting to recall facts and events that may not be clearly remembered. In Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, Bill Clegg intertwines two stories: his childhood and his crack addiction. He writes about his childhood in the third person, which I found awkward. While I came to understand the importance these childhood scenes played in his life, they were my least favorite part of the book.

The first half (approximately) is sensationalist reading. Clegg still has a leg in his normal life, even as he seems to be slipping into the phase of only caring about crack. My mind raced with questions as I read, "how did it start?" I was getting the beginning and the start of the end, but I longed for the middle. It did come eventually, and I found it anticlimactic. The revelation didn't feel like a revelation, which could have been an interesting opportunity to dig deeper.

Favorite passage:  "She reads. She is always reading. She asks him what he thinks about the books they read for school...He devours them and worries about the words he doesn’t understand and loves them because she does and often sobs at their endings, because for a while he is away, out of time, somewhere he can’t remember himself, and it is a shock, always a sad shock, to come back. She talks about these books, and each time, with each book, she sees more and better and has words that dazzle him to transcribe what she sees."

The verdict: While I enjoyed parts of this memoir immensely and found other parts fascinating, I enjoyed it less as the book went on. It started to feel repetitive, and the lack of chronology and dates made the narrative feel muddled. In a sense, this experience mirrors Clegg's experience as time disappeared and life became muddled. For having some brilliant passages, I wanted a lot more of Clegg reflecting rather than just chronicling.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 237 pages
Publication date: June 7, 2010
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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