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Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man: A Memoir [Hardcover]

Bill Clegg
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A rising publishing industry star trashes his life during a bender in this intense but callow confessional. Clegg, a literary agent with William Morris Endeavor, tells the story of a two-month crack binge in which he smoked away his literary agency partnership, his $70,000 bank account, 40 pounds (he's forever cutting new holes in his belt to cinch it to his wasting frame), and his relationship with his devoted long-suffering boyfriend. There's crazed excess and tawdry sex, but also a sharply etched portrait of the addict's mindset: the veering between paranoia and a compulsive sociability with the random crackheads he picks up to party with; the shrinkage of the planning horizon to the search for the next hit; the bliss of the high (the warmest, most tender caress... then, as it recedes, the coldest hand); the bender's unstoppable acceleration until, like a cartoon character running off a cliff, it has nothing left to sustain it. The author's efforts to impart psychological depth to his addiction—he writes of wan collegiate debauches and a childhood complex about urinating—are less convincing; it's clear that the binge will end when his money runs out. Though richly rendered, Clegg's crack odyssey feels like an epic bout of self-indulgence. (June 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In this chilling debut, Clegg has written a serious and compelling, if somewhat detached, addition to the subgenre of "addiction memoirs." Clegg's tight, elegant prose, earnest tone, and meticulous attention to detail call up a fairy tale world brutally transformed into a monstrous hell. While the New York Times Book Review and the Times considered the book tedious and clichéd, their comments appeared to be directed more toward the genre as a whole, whose repetitive descriptions of substance abuse are "amply familiar to anyone who has ever watched a single episode of Behind the Music on VH-1" (Times). Of course, reviewer David Carr has written his own tale of addiction, The Night of the Gun (***1/2 Nov/Dec 2008). Most critics, however, agreed with the Globe and Mail, which called Clegg's unflinching, intelligent, and grim account "a skillfully conjured, slow-motion train wreck from which it's impossible to look away."

From Booklist

Clegg was a partner in a thriving literary agency and was involved in a long-term, loving relationship when he succumbed to cocaine addiction. For two months, he went on a crack binge that emptied his bank account, ruined his business, destroyed his relationship, and nearly took his life. Clegg alternates between recollections of his slow and steady decline into addiction and his youthful discovery that he was gay, humiliated by his father's taunts and his mother's distance. As his addiction escalated, he frantically chased the high, endlessly starting over after binges of drinking and smoking crack, running away from every intervention effort by his family or his lover, indulging in anonymous sex with a string of fellow users. When his disheveled appearance prompts a hotel to reject his attempt to register, he realizes he has fallen into “the purgatory between citizen and nobody, between fine young man and bum” and begins a slow and painful recovery. This is a heartbreaking and completely absorbing look at the wreckage of cocaine addiction. --Vanessa Bush

Review

PRAISE FOR PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT AS A YOUNG MAN:

"Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man stands up to Frederick Exley's great memoir of alcoholism, A Fan's Notes . . . . But really, forget comparisons. Read the book."
(Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours)

"Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is an instant classic. Anybody who knows anything about addiction will feel morally altered by this book. To an extraordinary degree, it has both beauty and truth. It goes beyond its own revelations to become a book for everybody, a work of art. I suppose we live for the magic of these things." (Andrew O'Hagan, author of Be Near Me, Winner of the Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction, 2008)

"Bill Clegg's memoir is a startling, hair-raising, and compulsively readable account of one man's descent into the hell of addiction. That Clegg lived to tell his story is amazing. That he has captured the details of his experience with such beauty is even more so. Unforgettable." (Danielle Trussoni, author of the memoir Falling Through the Earth, named one of the Ten Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times)

"It's a remarkable achievement when a writer can evoke the most desperate episodes of addiction with the unflinching honesty required to make such a memoir worth reading, yet somehow manage to completely transcend sleaze, sordidness, and vapid self-justification. Bill Clegg's story of a man-largely locked in hotel rooms, engaged in a desperate, heart-wrenching battle with himself--is destined to become a cult classic of writing on drug addiction." (Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting)

"I devoured Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, couldn't put it down. The writing throughout is beautiful, and all the while it is reportorial and efficient and honest--a rare combination of feats!" (Elinor Lipman, author of Then She Found Me and, most recently, The Family Man)

"For all the literary musings on drugs, the business of literature is a rather sober and cerebral place. That fact may explain why the memoir of literary agent Bill Clegg, which recounts a nosedive not so very long ago into crack addiction, seems as shocking as his ability to construct gorgeously poetic scenes seems intuitive.... Clegg barrels full force into a spiraling Manhattan phantasmagoria of hot-boxed hotel bathrooms, more-than-willing drug dealers, boyfriend betrayal, insane paranoia, days gone missing, and the endless hunger of wanting just one more taste of the very thing that's eating you whole." (Interview Christopher Bollen)

"You won't be able to stop reading until it's all gone - and you will crave more...what makes Clegg's book especially riveting is the remarkable speed of his vertiginous fall from grace....Portrait is a spare, elegant book, one that shows admirable restraint in the face of extreme, even pathological behavior (A Million Little Pieces this is not.) Clegg may not have been able to control his demons, but he is utterly in charge of this material, with a voice that is knowing and self-deprecating in exactly the right measure." (Vogue Jonathan Van Meter)

"It turns out there is room on the shelf for one more addiction memoir....Clegg spares no one's feelings, least of all his own; it's not the brutality that makes this worthwhile but rather the strange beauty of the stream-of consciousness prose. We're voyeurs, as helpless to stop the carnage as the author himself." (GQ Mickey Rapkin)

"Clegg...cuts through the addiction-memoir noise, recounting the glamour and pathos of self-destruction with efficiency and disturbing clarity." (Details)

"Bill Clegg... has written a streamlined, hair-raising, high-torque memoir...Even though we know how the story must end, it's hard to believe Clegg will survive the ordeal he describes in such horrific detail." (Vanity Fair Jay McInerney)

"Mesmerizing...reading it is like letting the needle down on a Nick Drake album. [Clegg] tells his story in short, atmospheric paragraphs, each separated by white space, each its own strobe-lighted snapshot of decadent poetic memory....Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is the lightly narcotized sensorium of Mr. Clegg's prose." (The New York Times Dwight Garner)

About the Author

Bill Clegg is a literary agent in New York. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is his first book.
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