Archive for book review

This River by James Brown

Posted in books with tags , , , , on May 22, 2011 by Editors

This River

This River by James Brown was recently reviewed by Junk Talk’s own Tim Elhajj, who seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

Read the review on The Internet Review of Books. Buy This River: A Memoir from Amazon. Keep an eye on the site. We’re going to publish an author interview with James Brown shortly.

Here is an excerpt from the review:

James Brown’s new memoir, This River, is a collection of a dozen stories, most of which were previously published in literary journals or magazines. Here they come together to form a taut, sometimes brutal, picture of a man whose life has been ravaged by drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and plain old-fashioned hard luck. But it would be wrong to label this work as confessional or some sort of misery memoir. Brown doesn’t revel in his personal catastrophes. Arguably some of his best work is the work in which he explores his relationships with his two young sons or his own father. He’s got a light touch, a thoughtful outlook, and he knows how to weave a gripping narrative.


The Last Street Before Cleveland by Joe Mackall

Posted in books with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by Editors

The Last Street Before Cleveland by Joe Mackall

Every addict has a story about how they first got sober, just like every superhero has a story about getting their super powers, but it’s refreshing to find a story of an alcoholic that offers something different. The sordid drug related death of a childhood friend brings on an existential crisis for Joe Mackall, university professor and recovering alcoholic, who ends up returning to his working class neighborhood in Cleveland to search for meaning in life. Mackall captures the working class small town ethic (the story is billed as a memoir about class in America), but the way he describes his struggle with addiction is what really drew me in. Early in the work he lets the reader know he’s a recovering alcoholic. He hasn’t had a drink in over a dozen years (can’t remember the exact number). Mackall uses his addiction—the possiblity that he might return to drinking—to set the stakes. Although he doesn’t return to alcohol, he ends up in a pretty dark place with prescription drugs, made all the more dark by the threat of active alcoholism hanging over his head. The ending is satisfying and set up well: not unexpected but somehow still surprising. A great story.

My Name Is Bill by Susan Cheever

Posted in books with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2010 by Editors

As the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many accounts of Bill Wilson’s life. I’ve avoided them because they seem like the worst kind nonfiction—heavily biased narratives geared to make you think well of the person in question. Why waste your time?

But Susan Cheever’s biography of Bill Wilson isn’t that kind. She clearly thinks highly of the man, yet she doesn’t let that stop her from exploring his life. A hopeless alcoholic by the time he had reached middle age, Wilson married out of his class and never amounted to much in the corporate or professional worlds. His claim to fame is overcoming his alcoholism and laying the ground work for the entire 12-Step movement, a network of fellowships that offer relief for all sorts of dependency problems.

Cheever is the daughter of John Cheever and a respected author in her own right. She deftly brings to life early twentieth century Vermont and New York City. Understanding the mores helps you grasp the enormity of the task Wilson grappled with co-founding AA. He comes across as passionate and dedicated, but also deeply troubled and not just during his adventures with drinking. Cheever postulates about various marital infidelities during his fifty some year marriage, offering what little evidence she can find. More striking, Wilson apparently repeatedly asked for a whiskey on his death bed, during his last few days of life. Wilson was denied, but you won’t be: This biography is no testimonial.

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