The power of this novel lies in three distinct parts. Firstly, the author’s tragic relationship with his father which he describes so lucidly, and the subsequent sadness which describes his relationship with his mother:
“When we get to the part about my father, he asks what my mother said at the dinner table when things got rough. I describe how cruel he was to her, how poor she was growing up in Youngstown, how much younger she is than my father, how her own father died when she was a teenager. He says, Fine fine fine, but what did she say? Where was she?
Amazing, the power of three words. These will open up such a can of worms. I will sit there and think about all the sessions with Dr Dave, when I went through, blow by blow, how my father was during that time – how he sounded, what he said – and realise that we never talked about her. Not once. She was one of, I think, and maybe even say. He was awful to her. Criticised her cooking, her clothes, her intelligence, her interests, her friends. Just as he did with me and with Kim and, to a lesser extent, Lisa and Sean. But I can’t remember my mother beyond this shared circumstance. Can’t remember her saying anything to me about my problem. Acknowledging it, even. Can’t remember a word of comfort or concern about any of it. Broken legs, yes. Mean teachers, you bet. But this, never. Nor can I even see her at those dinner tables when guests were over, when my father would get tipsy and begin his taunting and threatening. It’s as if that whole corridor of my growing up held only me and my father, and while it happened in the same rooms, with everyone else, no one else saw or heard what was going on. I suddenly feel very tired.”
The second element which makes this a stellar memoir is the manner in which Clegg provides such a vivid account of the decline into drug addiction:
“Out on Mercer Street I’m terrified. I have somehow, without seeing it happen, tripped over some boundary, from the place where one can’t tell that I’m a crack addict to the place where it is sufficiently obvious to turn me away. I look at my hands to see if they are shaking. Suddenly, for the first time, I feel as if I might look and act and sound in a way that I am not able to see… Though I have been doing drugs, drinking litres of vodka a day, not sleeping, and running from hotel to hotel for a month, it dawns on me like a great shock that I might actually look like a junkie. I feel that whatever capacity I’d once had to move through the world undetected has vanished, that CRACK ADDICT is written on my forehead in ash, and everyone can see.
I am nowhere and belong nowhere. I can now see how it all happens – the gradual slide down, the arrival at each new unthinkable place – the crack den, the rehab, the jail, the street, the homeless shelter, a quick shock and then a new reality that one adjusts to. Am I now in the purgatory between citizen and nobody, between fine young man and bum?”
And finally, the third and weightiest aspect of the text is the author’s sense of emptiness, his lack of self esteem, his sorrow which he can’t seem to evade, what he describes as “life slamming into” him: “I am almost nothing. I am finally, about to be nothing.”
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