A memoir worth reading? Imagine that! New York Times media reporter David Carr's Night of the Gun comes out next month, and it's been treated to a nice nine-page excerpt in today's NYT Magazine. After detailing how he became a crack addict and how his dealer/girlfriend prematurely gave birth to his twin daughters (which you should totally read) he tackles the question of memoirs, which have been so sorely tarnished in the last few years.
But was it really all thus? When memory is called to answer, it often answers back with deception. How is it that almost every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?
If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story? What if instead I wrote that I was a recovered addict who obtained sole custody of my twin girls, got us off welfare and raised them by myself, even though I had a little touch of cancer? Now we're talking. Both are equally true, but as a member of a self-interpreting species, one that fights to keep disharmony at a remove, I'm inclined to mention my tenderhearted attentions as a single parent before I get around to the fact that I hit their mother when we were together. We tell ourselves that we lie to protect others, but the self usually comes out looking damn good in the process.
The arc of the addict, warm and familiar as a Hallmark movie with only the details pivoting, is especially tidy in the recollection:
I had a beer with friends.
I shot dope into my neck.
I got in trouble.
I saw the error of my ways.
I found Jesus or 12 steps or bhakti yoga.
Now everything is new again.
In the convention of the recovery narrative, readers will want to scan past the tick-tock, looking for the yucky part so that they can feel better about themselves. (Here's a taste: When I got to detox for what I thought was the last time, they took one look at my arms and brought me a tub filled with lukewarm water and Dreft detergent to soak my scabrous, pus-filled track marks. They dropped pills into my mouth from several inches away as if feeding a baby bird, and even the wet-brain drunks wouldn't come near me. See how that works?)
Today I am a genuine, often pleasant person, I do solid work for a reputable organization and have, over the breadth of time, proved to be an attentive father and husband. But drugs, it seems to me, do not conjure demons; they reveal them. So how to reconcile my past with my current circumstance? Which, you might ask, of my two selves did I make up?
As a veteran journalist, I decided to report the story. For two years on and off, I pulled medical and legal documents and engaged in a series of interviews with people I used to run with. By turns, it became a kind of journalistic ghost dancing, trying to conjure spirits past, including mine. [NYT]