Part memoir, part travelogue, part thematic literary history, English writer and critic Olivia Laing's book focuses on the drinking of six prominent 20th century American authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, poet John Berryman, and the Northwest's own Raymond Carver. She travels around the country to cities associated with the authors (New York, Key West, Port Angeles), traces the effects drinking had on the writer's lives and work (and those around them), and weaves in bits of her own narrative. I don't usually like writers who bring their own story into a book about another subject, but Laing is sparing and subtle with her life, which includes family members who are alcoholics. We tend to romanticize these hard-drinking, hard-living writers, but Laing treats their drinking seriously and as a real problem, rather than fuel for their creativity. It was only when Carver, for example, got sober that he wrote the stories that his reputations rests upon. The book both deepens your understanding of the writers and serves as a cautionary tale. A unique, insightful, and powerful book.
Made me want to read more from these talented, flawed artists. also made me want to take an excursion by train. also made me want to put a cork in my fine bottle of bordeaux!
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