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Lost Weekend (New York Classics) Paperback – August 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews


One of the valuable functions of a university press is the reprinting of "time lost" classics. In The Lost Weekend (first published in 1944), Charles Jackson tackles the demons and obsessions challenging the alcoholic. Writing in the fictional format of a novel, Jackson was able to bring to vivid life for the reader the tragedy of the alcoholic binge. In a literary style that was both terse and masterful, Jackson's unflinching story of what true alcoholism is and does to human beings is unforgettable. -- Midwest Book Review

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Classics
  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press (August 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081560419X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815604198
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,535,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By on June 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
For years, "The Lost Weekend" has been one of my favorite movies of the 1940s. Ray Milland's oily style never seemed better suited than it did to the role of Don Birnam, the story's inveterate sneaking drunk, and the movie was-- and remains-- surprisingly hard-hitting for a film of that period. I also promised myself for years that I would read Charles Jackson's book of the same title on which the movies is based, and I finally have. Jackson's book takes place entirely from the perspective of the main character, Don Birnam, and entirely inside that character's head. It contains relatively little action and dialogue (don't look for too many familiar scenes from the movie, especially that upbeat, optimistic ending), being mostly comprised of Birnam's endless introspection and rationalization of his self-destructive behavior, laced with undercurrents of homosexuality. This is never dull, however. Birnam is an intelligent, sharp, and very entertaining fellow, even if you can never trust him, and Jackson keeps you whipping right along, with only occasional lapses into literary and philosophical tedium. I have no biographical information about the author, but the story is told with such knowledge and insight that I would be very surprised if it is not, to some large extent, based on personal experience. This is a very thoughtful and penetrating read, which, I am happy to say, has not detracted from my enjoyment of the movie.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on August 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
For all the obeisance we pay to literature, it is remarkably rare for a novel to actually change, or help change, the culture. Nor is it necessarily, nor even likely, the "serious" books that effect the change. In terms of it's political impact, there may never have been a more important novel than Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is hardly the stuff of academic studies and literary criticism. Similarly, The Lost Weekend, though in many ways resembling nothing so much as a pulp fiction or a hardboiled noir, had a tremendous influence on American attitudes towards alcoholism and alcoholics, making it a surprisingly significant book.
Charles Jackson's semi-autobiographical tale follows the "promising" writer Don Birnam for one four day weekend as he descends into the depths of alcoholic despair and debauchery. Birnam's overly protective younger brother, Wick, goes out of town, leaving Don on his own in their apartment, even though he fears that, as usual, Don will take advantage of his independence to go on a binge. Wick has tried to limit the damage by controlling Don's allowance, from a family trust, but Don has perfected all kinds of scams for getting more and as the weekend progresses he comes up with some new ones. These include everything from stealing a purse to a rather pitiful attempt to find a pawn shop that's open on Yom Kippur, to hock his typewriter. Finally, he even steals and pawns his girlfriend's fur coat after she, Helen, tracks him down and tries nursing him through a period of delirium.
Besides the robberies from family, friends, and strangers, Jackson shows the effect of the drinking on Don's behavior towards others as he stands up a dinner date, takes advantage of a kindly local merchant, and unmercifully exploits Wick and Helen and their concern for him.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Roochak on March 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
If you've only seen the 1945 film version of The Lost Weekend, brace yourselves. Not only did Charles Jackson fail to provide a happy ending to his novel, but he packed it with material that Hollywood censors couldn't deal with, most notably his protagonist's barely closeted homosexuality.

You might say that Jackson, writing from experience, had nothing to lose when he wrote this tale of five hellish days in the life of career alcoholic Don Birnam. Don drinks because that's what drunks do, and no amount of shame or regret or self-loathing -- or for that matter the love and concern of those close to him -- is going to compel him to stop. The book is a series of internal monologues interrupted by crackling good passages of action and dialogue between Don and the various people who stand between him and his next drink. There are some great scenes: Don's public humiliation in an upscale nightclub; running into a member of his old fraternity and learning some unpleasant truths about what his friends thought of him; desperately dragging his typewriter the length of Third Avenue in search of an open pawnshop; being hit on by a smirking gay male nurse in the alcoholic ward he wakes up in.

Don, who may or may not have acted on his homoerotic fantasies in the past, resents being made so easily by Bim, the nurse; but he also resents the love of his girlfriend Helen, unconditional when he's drunk and helpless, highly conditional in his brief periods of sobriety. In fact, Helen is a ghostly, vaguely menacing presence who doesn't even appear in the book until almost the very end, and Don seems to regard time spent with her as akin to a prison sentence.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Tim Hall on April 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read "The Lost Weekend" after seeing the fine movie starring Ray Milland. The movie gripped me, and hit close to home, but I felt that there was a quality to the writing that made me seek out the book (which was out of print at the time). Boy, am I glad I did. "The Lost Weekend" is an absolute literary masterpiece, capturing a 5-day drunk from an inveterate alcoholic with such chilling accuracy that it actually becomes a suspense novel: there's a scene where the protagonist, Don Birnam, is struggling up 6th avenue to pawn his girlfriend's coat, so he can buy more booze, that is so nail-bitingly horrific that I had to put the book down several times and catch my breath.

Charles Jackson has perfectly captured the madness, compulsion, fear, degradation of addiction and yet this book is unlike any other I've read about alcoholism--the only one that really rivals it is "A Fan's Notes" by Fred Exley, which is the *other* great masterpiece about drinking.

For those of you who might be interested in seeing the flip side of this book, ie, "the horror of sobriety," you might want to check out HALF EMPTY by Tim Hall, which chronicles the madness, fear, and antagonism of early sobriety in much the way this captured the horror of hardcore alcoholism.
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