Monday, July 6, 2009

Winy Wino

Neil Steinberg’s Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life is awful.

Steinberg comes across as self-absorbed, selfish, pathetic, melodramatic, self-depreciating, self-pitying and possibly a sociopath. He tells the reader what people are thinking and feeling rather than showing through events, making him an unreliable narrator.

On page 164 he admits that after likening his history to a Greek tragedy while regaling his tale to fellow addicts as they blankly stare at him, he adds that it was, “just Neil babbling nonsense.” It comes across as an insult to the less educated addicts’ intelligence, but “just Neil babbling nonsense” is actually a good description for the entire book.

It is not a Greek tragedy. There was no family curse (his parents didn’t drink) and no gods intervened in his life. He drank too much and one night he slapped his wife.

Even with his over-the-top praise for his wife Edie, at several times during the book he starts blaming the “bitch” for calling the cops on him when he slapped her, causing him to go to jail and then rehab.

Since the book’s written in present tense, it’s difficult to tell whether that was his opinion only when he was trying to sober up or if that’s still what he felt while writing the book. Seeing as he remains bitter toward her throughout the book and repeats how it’s her fault he has to go to rehab, my guess is the latter.

Memoirs are usually written in past tense, so that the author can relay events as well as reflect on how they’ve learned from time, maturity and distance. Without any intellectual interpretations and random tangents that lead nowhere, Steinberg’s book comes across as little more than a drunken ramble.

Just as I would not sit next to a drunk in a bar as he pours out his entire self-pitying story to me, I did not want to finish Steinberg’s stream of consciousness. However, I sledged through 270 pages to warn you readers to stay far, far away from this book. There are many superior addiction memoirs. Unless you prefer a drunken ramble by a man who hits his wife and isn’t able to show appropriate remorse.

-Sarah Hutchins