Reformed-junkie memoirs are about as common — and unique — as tough-childhood memoirs, but New York Times contributor David Carr's The Night of the Gun is a refreshing change of pace.
In these days after James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, a memoir of "essential truth" that was discredited by Oprah Winfrey, Carr is exceedingly careful in his reconstruction of his drug-addled memories, and his well-honed journalistic skills elevate the book well above the standard-issue memoir.
Employing fierce, clipped language, the author chronicles his progression from experimental drinking and dope-smoking to injecting cocaine and smoking crack. As he spiraled further downward, he struggled to maintain his career as an editor and reporter with a succession of alt-weeklies, including the Twin Cities Reader (now called City Pages) and, following a move to D.C., the Washington City Paper. This fragile balancing act was further complicated by the birth of Carr's twin daughters (to his equally addicted girlfriend), an event that occurred during some of his darkest days.
"When Anna's water broke," he writes, "I had just handed her a crack pipe ... It was hard to tell whether we were in the midst of giving birth or participating in a kind of neonatal homicide."
Carr shows unaffected remorse for his objectionable behavior — which, in addition to neglect of his daughters, included emotional (and occasionally physical) abuse of his friends and lovers — but it's his meticulous search for the truth that makes the book such a success.
Because his recollections are admittedly foggy, he turns to the public record for corroboration of events: police reports, rejection letters, dozens of videotaped interviews with former friends, addicts, dealers, and drinking buddies. This "evidence" aids the author in telling his story and reveals important truths — and fallacies — about the nature of addiction and recovery.
Even after kicking his drug habit, Carr slipped back into his addictive ways, developing an alcohol dependency more than a decade into his sobriety. He's sober now, but he's quick to admit that it will prove to be a lifelong struggle.
Despite that acknowledgement, readers may have a nagging desire to smack some sense into the rehab-hopping, relapse-happy author. Once that urge passes, though, all that will remain will be appreciation for one of the best memoirs of recent memory.
Eric Liebetrau, a Charlerston native, is the managing editor of Kirkus Reviews.