Friday, February 22, 2013

Book 9 of 52: The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson

I ordered The Lost Weekendby Charles Jackson after Vanity Fair published a feature on Jackson in March, and how his life changed after the novel was optioned into a movie in 1945 (it won best picture Oscar in 1946).

The Vanity Fair piece isn't online. It's they're typical "look at this old crazy thing that happened in Hollywood" type piece (which isn't a bad thing), but here's what you need to know for this review: the novel is largely biographical and like the main character Don, Jackson was an aspiring writer and alcoholic. The book chronicles five days of Don's binge drinking. It's not an easy read, not only because of the absolute sadness and terror of Don's inner thoughts while working through a five day drinking binge, but because there is very little action or even dialogue with other people.

Most of the book is a running internal monologue of Don rationalizing his need to drink, rationalizing borrowing money he can't return to get a drink, then dropping into deep despair, all while sliding through flash backs that gradually give the reader an idea of how he became a drinker in the first place, and how his drinking has affected those around him.

It's a familiar to anyone who's been involved with an addict. I had an on and off relationship with an alcoholic in my 20s (the end of that relationship prompted the first Book a Weekproject). So while I'm glad I chose to read this book, I had a difficult time with it. Like Don, he made a lot of bargains with himself: "I'm fine if I stick to weekends" turned to "I'm fine if it's on weekdays too if it doesn't affect work" turned to "I'm fine if I miss on appointment a month." Like Don, too, he was energized when he was drinking, made plans he knew he'd never keep, said things to me that he never meant. Don would propose to Helen, his ex-girlfriend, whenever he was drunk. My ex would tell me we should get married when he was drunk, too. I'm glad Helen and I both escaped that - or at least I assume she had by the end of the book.

In a lot of ways, The Lost Weekend is a book of its time - with page-long paragraphs and lack of action outside of Don's mind, I think it would have a hard time finding a publisher today. But its story is an old one, and one worth reading to understand how the mind of an addict works.

The Lost Weekend had been out of print so I bought a used copy online, but it was just re-issued on Feb. 12 if you'd like a new copy (which also explains why the Vanity Fair piece ran when it did).

I stayed up too late last night finishing the book because I didn't want to take it with me on vacation (can't you blame me?) So expect some fun books and fun reviews coming your way.

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