We haven’t done a memoir in a while, right? Cool. I’m feeling in the mood. Plus, my gentleman friend and I just finished reading one (I read out loud to him. Sooooo cute, right? Totes adorb.) Translation: it’s convenient.
Thing is, you’ve probably never heard of this book. And I don’t mean that in a ‘How Many Hipsters Does It Take To Screw In A Light Bulb’ sort of way. It just wasn’t a big deal book. Granted, it was a New York Times bestseller, so I guess it depends on how you define “big deal.” But it seems to me that the chick who wrote it did her morning show rounds, and then proceeded to fade into that relative obscurity that is the fate of 99% of authors pretty much no matter what. Her name is Koren Zailckas and the book is Smashed (2005).
I want to be clear: it’s not that you shouldn’t have heard of it. This is a book worth reading, especially if you are an aspiring writer. I say that because it is the work of an author who is both obviously young and obviously talented. It’s also worth reading if you’re curious about alcohol abuse and alcoholism, especially in girls and young women. (The subtitle is “Story of a Drunken Girlhood.”)
One of the controversies surrounding this book is that Zailckas claims she is not an alcoholic. When you read about her drunken exploits, though–they start at about age 13 or 14, if I remember correctly–it’s a bit hard to swallow that she’s not addicted. Zailckas maintains that she’s spoken to many an addiction counselor and they all identify her behavior as risky and abusive, but not addictive. If addiction exists as a continuum (which I personally believe it does) Zailckas never actually crosses the line into true dependency. When a good enough reason to quit comes up, she turns her life around. In the end, she was not powerless over the booze.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Already talking about the end of the book and we haven’t even looked at all the stuff in the middle! Sorry friends. Here’s the meat: as far as memoirs go, this one is alright. As you can imagine from what I’ve already described, the story of Koren’s young life is interesting, dramatic, edgy…all that good stuff. The writing itself demonstrates raw talent in need of just a bit of polish.
The story is told in the present tense–mostly. This usually bugs me, but I got used to it. Maybe because she actually ends up swaying in between past and present tenses, so eventually you just take it as is. Her descriptions are also very ‘present,’ culturally speaking. By that I mean that she makes a lot of comparisons to songs, shows, movies, and products that are a little too particular to her era. These things aren’t so timeless that they warrant use, so really they have the unfortunate effect of making the narrator sound a bit childish. Again, I think this is a symptom of the writer’s youth, and something she’ll grow out of. The longer you live, the more perspective you gain on the concept of “significant.”
Those things being said, Zailckas is really a phenomenal describer. She uses figurative language like it’s going out of style, and her word choices are grounded in sensory experience. Which is why I think this is a great book to read if you are wanting to write. It’d also be a good book to use in the teaching of creative writing; particularly creative nonfiction and particularly with younger (mid-adolescent) students. There’s a chance they’ll also learn a thing or two about how alcohol abuse can totally ruin your college experience and put your life at risk…but don’t come crying to me if they don’t listen. Kids these days, I tell ya.