Old Man Addict David Carr Tackles Young Man Addict Bill Clegg in NYT Book Review


Generally kick-ass New York Times media writer David Carr wrote a book detailing his experience with addiction and he called it Night of the Gun. But according to fellow Times writer Dwight Garner, Carr is too ugly — too potato-shaped — to sell well as a writer with himself as a subject. Enter Bill Clegg, the comely literary agent-slash-crack head and author of the new Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. This guys looks like a “J.Crew catalog model.” The press loves him! This weekend’s New York Times Book Review makes an especially clever play: Carr, the old and ugly former addict dissects Clegg, the newer model of addiction memoirist. How is it?

Comparisons between the two have been around for two years, lending a certain importance to Carr’s take. The result: Insightful!

Carr sets his tone early on, pulling the camera back for a wide-range shot, comparing the tumble of an addict to a car accident, a “single car rollover,” specifically. As for Portrait, the book:

For gawkers, it will provide reliable thrills because the cliff Clegg went off was so high, the fall so steep. But at bottom, why the addict does what he does is necessarily reductive: because he is an addict.

The review itself is beautifully written; drugs are a subject with which Carr feels comfortable. As a result, we get sentences like this one:

Addicts tend to dwell in the ecstasy of ignition, that moment when endorphins are first beckoned and the show begins, but in a more sober, retrospective light, the fact remains that addiction’s primary aspect is boredom — the getting and using of the same substance over and over until death, jail or recovery intervenes.

It’s haunting — the empathy comes through in a special way, but is translated for the reader, who may not share these experiences in manner that is easy to grasp. Or at least one that’s entertaining to read. Carr’s own disclosure comes in the seventh paragraph:

As the author of my own memoir about crack addiction, I don’t pretend to know how to avoid the numbing narrative aspects of drug use.

At times, it’s hard to discern Carr’s exact feelings on the book — maybe it’s too close. But his analysis seems appropriately ambivalent, conflicted. “Addicts, active or otherwise, are narcissistic as a matter of course, stuck on the holy music of the self to the exclusion of almost everything else,” he writes. He knows. That’s what makes the review worth reading.

Crack Agent
[New York Times]