(Starred.) The crawl back up to sobriety is as engrossing as the downward spiral in this unsparing and luminous autobiographical study of alcoholism. Novelist and essayist Jamison (The Empathy Exams) recounts her booze-sodden 20s, which she spent bouncing between Yale and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop—a time when she resorted to drinking because it blocked out her insecurities about herself and her relationships. Jamison’s recovery, with backsliding, is a grim affair as she fights a constant craving for alcohol. She joins Alcoholics Anonymous in her mid-20s, and while she finds the prosaic honesty and camaraderie at her AA meetings to be revelatory, she still dreads sobriety as “a string of empty evenings, a life lit by the sallow fluorescence of church-basement bromides rather than the glow of dive-bar neon signs.” Intertwined with her narrative are shrewd profiles of alcoholic writers— including John Berryman, Raymond Carver, The Lost Weekend writer Charles Jackson, and Jean Rhys—that probe the fraught link between drinking (and not drinking) and literary creativity. The dark humor, evocative prose, and clear-eyed, heartfelt insights Jamison deploys here only underscore her reputation as a writer of fearsome talent.
(See an interview with Publishers Weekly about the book here.)
"Leslie Jamison has written an honest and important book. It will be important to recovering alcoholics who wonder if there really is life after booze, and I think it will be important to writers and critics, because she weaves her story of recovery into those of artists (mostly writers, but also Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse) who also made the jump from soused to sober. And some who didn’t. The most important thematic thread may be its insistence that the talented artist who needs booze or drugs to support his work and withstand his own vision does not, in fact, exist. It’s important to debunk what Todd Rundgren called 'the ever-popular tortured artist effect.' All in all, vivid writing and required reading."
“Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering is a definitive investigation of both the romance of intoxication and the possibilities for recovery. Whether interviewing veterans of a communal rehab house, digging through the archives of alcoholic writers, or examining her own motives and thoughts, Jamison shows ways of living alongside contradictions without diminishing their confusion and pain. Graceful, forensic, and intimate, The Recovering sets a new bar in addiction studies. It is a courageous and brilliant example of what nonfiction writing can do.”
“You don’t need to be an addict to be enthralled by The Recovering. This book is for anyone interested in a dazzlingly brilliant, uncommonly compassionate, and often hilarious study of human nature. Leslie Jamison’s work will definitely make you feel smarter—I’d like to borrow her brain to pick a fight with a couple of people—but The Recovering also reads like a gripping mystery as written by a subversive and deeply passionate philosopher. Her writing is unexpected, profound, and perverse—in short, a thrill to read. Best of all, for a writer so gifted at locating the excruciating commonalities of isolation, Jamison manages this greatest feat of magic: when I read her words, I come away feeling less alone.”
“Leslie Jamison writes about the highs of dependency and also about the highs of recovery. Her prose is so sharp and evocative that the reader feels the thrilling trickle of alcohol down the back of the throat, and breathes the struggle for health and freedom. Jamison demonstrates great wit, penetrating intellect, and an enormous heart. This strangely exhilarating book is about recovery, but it is more resonantly a book about desire, consciousness, kindness, self-control, and love—and hence a Tolstoyan study of the human condition.”
“Leslie Jamison has done a magnificent job of rescuing an age-old social problem from the clichés that surround it, and making us see it anew for the cruel assault on the human spirit that it really is.”
“The Recovering is beautifully written, brutally honest, formidably intelligent, emotionally powerful, and absolutely fascinating. Leslie Jamison captured my attention in the very first sentence and didn’t let it go for a second until—with reluctance—I finished the very last. Addiction literature has just welcomed a new classic.”