10/10. Drug rehab memoirs by James Frey.
I’m not entirely sure how I start writing a review of this book. Maybe it’s best to start by pointing out the slightly strange way it’s typeset – all left-aligned, with sometimes strange line breaks, lack of quotation marks (and indeed quite often he omits various pieces of grammar when it suits his purpose) and every now and again, a Word is capitalised for no particularly good reason. In short, it looks and reads like it’s been written as a stream of thoughts onto the page. And this is what it is.
It starts. James on a plane. He doesn’t know why, he doesn’t remember even boarding it. His front teeth are badly damaged and he has a hole in his cheek. The only things he has are his clothes, which are “covered in a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood”. He finds it hard to walk. His parents collect him at the airport and take him to a drug rehab centre, which he describes as “Functional. Simple. Menacing”. And for the first few days, he hates it.
Frey’s simple narrative works wonderfully. It pulls you in, keeps you reading, keeps you thinking and doesn’t let go, and in this way doesn’t feel like a memoir. It’s written mostly in the present tense and he’s the main voice all the way through. In fact, it’s like you’re sitting next to him and he’s telling you everything that’s going through his head. You can feel as he feels, whether you’ve passed out in a gutter from too much drink or snorted lines of crystal meth or not, because in this book he doesn’t take drugs or drink. He’s not on the road to hell, he’s on the road back, and you get to walk with him every moment of it.
He’s stubborn. He refuses to go through the Twelve Steps of AA, refuses to believe in any form of Higher Power or God, and in fact rejects most of the Clinc’s ideology and rules. He gets in fights and has flashbacks and blackouts and vomits every morning, but as he improves, you can’t help but feel happy. As the book gets to the point where he’s about to leave, you want to turn the pages and read faster than is physically possible because of the euphoria he describes. This isn’t a history book, this is something wholly interactive.
James Frey is undoubtedly a talented writer and you can feel it when you’re reading. He’s uncompromisingly truthful, honest, almost to the point where you feel you should sometimes cringe – especially when he tells his tearful parents over the phone he doesn’t want them anywhere near him. But this same honesty and truthfulness is laced with the dry wit of someone who’s been though a lot, making it truly funny while, at times, horribly disgusting.
He makes sparing use of chaptering, and doesn’t name parts of his book. In fact, he makes sparing use of just about everything except swearing, but I don’t really have a problem with that, and the constant references to drugs are, well, expected. It’s a drug rehab book. It’s not something you read for a laugh.