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David Carr’s Dangerously Addictive Addiction Memoir

by Jake Mohan 

Tags: books and publishers, creative nonfiction, memoir, addiction, The Night of the Gun, David Carr, journalism, truth,

notgMy name is Jake and I am addicted to addiction memoirs. So of course I am caught up in the sordid web of David Carr’s harrowing, sprawling, unsentimental, booze- and drug-addled, New-York-Times-best-selling, luridly compelling addiction memoir, The Night of the Gun.

It’s more than simply an addiction memoir, however, and Carr takes great pains to assure himself as much as his readers that he is not simply throwing another perversely boastful drug confessional into a literary market already glutted with the genre. He is primarily concerned about the accuracy of his memory, warped as it is by time and chemicals, and the questions of subjective versus objective truth that both plague and compel writers of nonfiction—issues which seem academic until they arise, perennially, amidst scandals involving fabricated memoirs.

Because he is a reporter—an award-winning writer for the New York Times—Carr gathers as much hard evidence as he can about the hard living he did in the 1970s and 80s while working as a journalist in Minneapolis. He pores over police and court records and interviews friends and witnesses from the era, but suspects even before he’s done that his project will most likely remain incomplete.

What emerges instead is an absorbing tale of addiction and recovery that does dwell a bit too long on Carr's countless bad decisions, recounting war stories long after the reader has gotten the point: he was a miserable asshole. Carr also veers dangerously close to the clichéd narrative perils of ruin and redemption that so often befall memoirs, but always manages to pull away before it’s too late. The second half of the book, tracing his slow recovery, is intriguing for its discussions of the paradoxes of substance abuse and cultural attitudes toward addiction.

Ultimately, The Night of the Gun isn’t so much about drugs and addiction as it is about something more universal: our relationship to our own histories, and how our memories are altered and ablated by time’s inexorable, unsympathetic progression.