Hemning Sternberg (moonshadow) wrote in bookish,
Hemning Sternberg

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

This is another book in my topical arc on women and alcoholism. It was recommended to me by a number of people. I really enjoyed the language and the personal quality of the story.

From the outside, Caroline Knapp's life looks fine. She has a good job as a journalist, a loving, if slightly odd, family, and a steady boyfriend (or sometimes two). But secretly, she is also having a passionate love affair with alcohol, one that gets more and more desperate as time goes by.

"Some people find the absolutism of this approach oppressive at best... I can see (their) point - the language of twelve-step programs is nothing if not repetitive, and right from the start you hear the same cliches and catchphrases and slogans over and over and over. Don't drink, go to meetings, ask for help: the AA mantras. Keep it simple. One day at a time. Let go and let God. But I welcomed the sense of brainwashing. I felt like my brain could use a good scouring out by then and I was both frightened and desperate enough to set aside whatever biases I'd brought, and just listen, to absorb. I believed what I was told and I believed I belonged there, and every time I heard someone tell his or her story at an AA meeting, I connected with some part of it, saw a piece of myself. The people I heard at meetings also had a confidence, a calm self-acceptance, I'd coveted all my life, and I wanted what they had: serenity." (p 252-253)

Most of this memoir is focused on Knapp's "active alcoholic" days, as she calls them. She does make a distinction between active and recovering phases of alcoholism. She only discusses her recovery in the last few chapters of the book. AA is what helped her, although she is not dogmatic about it and acknowledges that there are other ways to get sober (but AA is the only sobriety group she refers to in her appendix). There is much to connect with in this story - being part of a drinking culture in her twenties, feeling confused about what to do with her life, the death of her father, dramatic relationships with men, gradually worsening family issues, and a slowly growing sense that maybe alcohol is at least part of the problem. I found this story very easy to relate to. I recommend it for anyone interested in the memoir of an alcoholic or something readable about why women in particular drink. Three stars (a C+ in the new system).
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