Beautiful Boy

By David Sheff

Book club selection for May. I’s gots to get crackin on this book–I am sharing it with a friend and I have to read it to give her enough to time to read it.

Uh-oh. I am finding it boring. Not bad, not not heartbreaking, but it’s been expanded from a magazine article and I don’t think it should have been. There’s too much about the father’s own drug experiences that elucidate his early denial about his son’s addiction problems, true, but are written with a carefree tone and sort of glorify drug use and because he turned out great, who cares?

He probably shouldn’t have shared those stories with his kid or smoked a joint with him when he suspected the kid was using but didn’t want to believe it. The author (father), however, is admitting this. He’s not still in denial. It just feels like filler and it makes the overall tone of the book a little schizo.

Being only halfway through the book I can’t say that it’s not an artistic choice and a metaphor in writing for what it’s like to live with or be an addict. The reviews of this book on Amazon are rave, and they should be with the right audience. But so far the book isn’t really working for me as brilliant insight into the lives affected by addiction and I am not reading it from the viewpoint of a person affected by addiction who is grateful to read about his or her own experiences and get reassurance that crazy is normal in this case. It’s a pretty blunt retelling of events with some expert interviews and facts about meth thrown in.

OK, it’s better. Now that the son is packed up in rehab and the father has time to breathe, he is getting more reflective. He is also staying in the present. I still think there are too many quotes from other authors and expert interviews. It takes away from these moments of clarity and resonance. It could serve, however, as a distancing mechanism, for either the author as he writes it or because some editor recommended it on behalf of the reader. I still think this would make a better article. Maybe a series of articles. Of course, I should stop saying that and read the article he already wrote, that inspired the book. It’s referenced. I could find it.

I was very, very moved by the second half of the book, because that’s where the author really delved into what was happening to him, not his son. I really, really wish they’d cut out all the quotes and song lyrics. The song lyrics were just escapist and the quotes were a way to back off a painful truth–the author would lead up to something, then lapse into citation, letting someone else make his point, and conclude basically with, “Yeah, what she said.” I can totally understand the need to protect yourself with someone else’s words, but it bumped the reader out of the story and it appealed to an authority that wasn’t required.

I don’t want to excuse Nic for anything, but he was shafted by his parents. The most telling omission from the book is the connection that Nic started drinking and using drugs when his stepmother got pregnant with his father’s new family. Also, in an interview (at about the father and son and the books each of them published, Nic makes this comment about his father:

    “He sent me a copy before it was published and I read the whole thing without a pause and then burst into tears. I knew in the abstract what I put him and his family through, but to read it was really painful. I’m so sorry for what I did.”

His family. Nic wasn’t really part of his Dad’s second family and he knew it. Ultimately, I’m siding with Nic, to the extent that you can side with someone in this case (which you really can’t). He needed help long before anyone offered anything to him, even before he started dabbling in the narcotic arts at all.

I still don’t think I’m going to read Nic’s book, Tweak. I already know that meth addiction is bad, and I already know the details. I don’t need to read firsthand all of the horrible things that he did and that happened to him, and it’s already been established in his father’s book that addicts don’t make logical choices about rehab. I don’t need to learn the exact crazy illogical drugs-talking reasons Nic has had a hard time recovering. In the end, addicts follow uniform patterns of behavior. I don’t really have any interest in peering at the specifics of his pain.

We ended up sort of taking sides, sympathizing with either Nic or his father more. One person had already read the book Tweak and found Nic’s behavior and attitude towards others so repulsive that she couldn’t help but see the father as “less guilty” (my summation term, not her words) than was Nic. It’s a complicated, sad, horrible experience that I hope I never participate in firsthand.

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