Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A Drinking Life

Posted by nliakos on September 29, 2007

by Pete Hamill (narrated by Jonathan Davis)

I’ve had this on my To Read list for a while because I absolutely loved Hamill’s Snow in August (a mostly realistic, partly fantastic novel about a young Catholic altar boy who becomes friends with a Czech rabbi, a refugee from the Nazis, in the years after the war when Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in professional baseball) and also really liked Forever (the story of an Irish immigrant who is granted eternal life–as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan). A Drinking Life is Hamill’s memoir of growing up in Brooklyn, wanting to draw comics,dropping out of high school, joining the Navy, going to work for the New York Post, getting married and divorced, and throughout it all, how he was affected by alcohol–first his father’s drinking, and then his own.

I enjoyed seeing how similar Hamill’s boyhood was to the young protagonist in Snow in August, who also loved comic book heroes, whose father was absent, who served the mass, who lived near a synagogue…. But I kept wondering how someone could make so many bad choices–getting into fights, dropping out of school, drinking like a fish, sleeping with numerous women, neglecting his family–and still somehow survive and be successful! It seems to be he should have been dead long ago of either venereal disease or cirrhosis of the liver. I’m glad he lived to write those books, but I can’t understand his charmed life. He probably doesn’t think of it as charmed–with an alcoholic father whom he could never manage to please and a failed marriage–but the fact that he lived so long seems charmed to me. I’m on the final CD, when his marriage has broken up and his wife has taken his two daughters and gone to study in Mexico, and I am hoping he is going to tell how he finally managed to stop drinking! (Later: I could hardly believe how he quit drinking: he just stopped one day.  He must not have ever been truly addicted, because he doesn’t seem to have suffered DTs or had any real difficulty quitting.  Some people are lucky when it comes to quitting smoking or drinking, but I am sure it’s not a typical experience.)

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