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on July 25, 2010
When I asked for advice about how to judge a piece of art, one of my English Lit professors recommended that I ask myself: "Does this (art) succeed in that which it attempts to do?"
After applying this handy advice while considering Bill Glegg's "Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man," I have to say that his memoir is ultimately effective. It may not be ultimately satisfying for the reader (the recollections of childhood struggles with toilet issues are compelling but maddeningly opaque; his recovery is hardly mentioned), but reader satisfaction isn't the point.

What this book does is effectively capture and represent Clegg's nightmare tailspin into crack cocaine addiction and his final weeks-long binge. Assuming that this is what the author intended the book to be about, it is very well done. I can't be 100% positive because I've never used crack myself...but after reading this, I think that I have an idea. It isn't pretty.

Relentless paranoia. Drugs, sex with random people, latenight visits by crack dealers, ignoring and evading the people who care about him, drinking liters of vodka, experiencing drug-induced psychosis, torching his life. Humiliating and degrading himself. And for what? The way that he write it, during this binge, the crack high does not sound fun at all. But Clegg is not using to get high. He is using to stay ahead of the avalanche that is his past and the consequences of his behavior.

Clegg is not a likable narrator. He is not sympathetic (some of his childhood memories made me sad for him, though). Other reviewers have remarked about how self-absorbed and narcissistic he is, and they are correct. Junkies are self-absorbed and narcissistic. They are greedy, destructive, abusive, and incapable of love or trust. In this book, Clegg tells it like it is. I have to hand it to him--he's frank about the bridges he burned, the friends he exploited and terrified, the colleagues he left hanging or abandoned, and the loved ones (especially his long-suffering and somewhat codependent bf/partner) he betrayed. Maybe when he wrote it, he was working on one of those steps (in the 12 steps) that involves making a fearless personal inventory, or recognizing what you've done wrong to others, or whatever step it is...I have no idea, but I'd believe it if I heard it.

And yes, as some of the other reviewers have mentioned, the author comes accross as a spoiled snob with entitlement issues. He's not binging in a crack house, obviously, he's binging in 4-star manhattan hotels. As I read it, his homosexuality was accepted warmly by his social and professional group. He spent more money on this binge than most people make in many months. Readers may find this distasteful. Lord knows that I did, though the feeling was offset somewhat by the knowledge that I did not envy him one tiny bit. For me, what grated the most was his reference to the (hallucinated) FBI/DEA/Police/Govt Agents as "Pennies," as in, J.C. Penny's, as in the agents are dressed in clothing purchased from J.C. Penny's (meaning working/middle class, tackey, low-rent, unfashionable). He sees "Pennies" everywhere. He also mentally sneers at an airplane captain who ejects him off of the plane because he is suspiciously inebriated. Even though he is a degenerate junkie by this point, Clegg contemptuously notes the captain's "hokey" uniform and its inferior tailoring. He's obnoxious.

But he recollection is honest, and his writing is skillful. He can turn a phrase, he is clearly literate and talented. And given the repitition of the material, his descriptions are not repetitive or overly familiar, which is a feat in and of itself.

This is not a story of addiction, from beginning to end, with a character arc. This is a portrait of addiction. If you approach the book with that in mind, I think that you will be quite satisfied with the story.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Check my other reviews... I don't make a habit of writing negative reviews. But I found this book tedious and incomplete, and the story not very compelling. You've read this book before. Or seen the story on TV. Addict traumatized by broken relationships with his parents in childhood spirals further and further down into the hole of addiction, enabled (beyond belief) by his saintly partner, Noah, who in one scene goes so far as to hold his hand and cry as he has sex with a male hustler. Really? OK....

The majority of the book chronicles the addiction itself, with flashbacks to childhood and some sort of trauma involving an inability to urinate. Really.

We don't ever care that much about the protagonist because there's just not much to like. On 9/11... as the towers are burning... he goes and gets a haircut. OK....

He spirals downward, farther and farther, goes to rehab, spirals back down... Noah's there enabling him...

The end of the book is completely unsatisfying - but I won't spoil it just in case you do decide to read the book. Let's just say the protagonist has some unresolved childhood issues. Looking for redemption? An understanding that the world is larger than the protagonist? You're not going to find it in this book. What you will find is the narcissistic self-absorption that characterizes all addicts. Poor character development abounds - why does Noah put up with all this? Just because he loves him? And why should the reader care about any of this?

95% of the book is detailed descriptions of the protagonist doing drugs. I'd hoped to see a little more self-discovery in this book - perhaps not redemption but at least some self-reflection. But that's clearly way too much to ask.

Suggest you skip the book and check out the TV series "Intervention"....

Perhaps I'm way off base on this review, as others seemed to have liked it, but this book to me was wildly unsatisfying.
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on June 9, 2010
After reading about Bill Clegg in the NY Times Style section and then reading the book excerpt in NY Magazine, I bought the Kindle version (high price at $14.99) and devoured this thin volume in a day. The truth is if you read both pieces mentioned, you've pretty much read the book (except for the back-story of his life, which focuses on the author's inability to pee and high school and college days that show an addictive personality at an early age).

The book reads well and moves along quickly(you keep on waiting for a pay-off that doesn't ever seem to come). There doesn't seem to be a lot of depth though. In a way, it's like a celebrity biography ...'and then I did this...' but replaced with ...'and then I took another hit...'

I was hoping for more.

Oddly enough, this book is not a harrowing read like the (fictional) James Frey's book. For an excellent read on addiction and recovery, check out "Liquid Lover" by John Moriarty.

I wish Bill Clegg the best with book and his career and his recovery!
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on November 1, 2010
Some reviewers have lauded the ostensible crystal clarity, the tight prose, the momentum of the narrative. Yep, I finished this book in a couple of hours. No, it wasn't because it was such a riveting read. My momentum came from the sense that I was reading a new version of "The Emperor's New Clothes" -- who, I wondered, was going to call out the protagonist as the hopelessly self-absorbed, self-contradictory ass he was? I kept waiting for Clegg to reflect in any meaningful sense upon the events he paraded out on page after tedious page, but he seems to believe that we will remain interested in the details of his each and every crack purchase without any contextualization of his addiction beyond a tenuous and undeveloped connection to difficulty urinating as a child.

Irritating inconsistencies abound, e.g. he concludes in one chapter that the fourth floor of a building isn't high enough to kill himself from, then calculates in the next with annoying authoritativeness that the third floor is certainly high enough from which to commit suicide. It is also profoundly off-putting to have Clegg seeking the reader's sympathies for, say, the disgusting state of the very expensive cashmere sweater he wears for days straight during his hit-bottom binge and how the shop-girl looks at him when he enters a boutique and buys a new, equally expensive cashmere sweater to replace it. (Who feels sorry for you here, seriously?) Elsewhere he writes of feeling out of place among all the rich people as a graduate of a non-Ivy college; but he cannot resist, sans irony, repeatedly referencing his prodigious bank balance. The last chapter is a needlessly oblique fantasy sequence that feels utterly contrived and offers no resolution or insight.

I truly believe that the only reason this book has seen the light of day is that Mr. Clegg's buddies in publishing allowed their personal connection to or affection for him to cloud their literary judgment. It reads like a lightly edited version of the sort of therapeutic confessional that addicts are asked to write in their first weeks of rehabilitation before they have gotten beyond the first flush of narcissism, so if that is your cup of tea... well, here you go. Me? I mourn the loss of the evening I'm not getting back.
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on June 18, 2010
A major drawback of 'Portrait' is that the book relies heavily upon events. This is a common weakness in many memoirs; the author believes you'll find the events interesting in and of themselves. But they aren't. What's missing is the interpretation. Good memoirs include reflection about why these things happened and how they shaped the writer's life. It adds the necessary meaning to the story.
In one chapter Mr Clegg does a ton of crack and then writes "I find three bottles of wine in the kitchen and drink them." And we, as the reader, are to believe he remembers all of this? Tell ya what, why don't you (and by "you", I mean anyone reading this) do a bunch of crack right now, then drink three bottles of wine, let a couple of years go by, then write about the experience. Right. I think you get my drift here.
If you read the free chapter that is offered here on Amazon, then you don't need to read anymore. Trust me on this one. Yawn.
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on November 26, 2010
Bill's portrayal of an addict was brutally honest. I felt I could relate to what he was going through. His account wasn't sugar coated. Definately not a feel good book, however he left the reader with some hope for his addiction. Purchased it for a friend of mine who is an addict and had recently relapsed. He said he could relate to it in more ways than I know. (Actually I did know, thats why I bought it for him).
A very well written book for the addict and non addict alike. A bit on the graphic side, but I believe for some addicts it can be much worse than the book portrays.
I highly recommend this book!
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on July 16, 2010
Mr. Clegg has written a book, or so it seems, that is at times unreadable. He is a self absorbed, self important snob of the worst kind. I sincerely appreciate the difficulty and anguish of his addiction. I am pleased that he was able to overcome all of those obstacles. However, he manifested the experience in such a pretentious and imperious manner. I wish I could get my money back.
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on July 6, 2010
The author appears to be living proof that one can physically survive an endless debauchery of drugs. As literature, however, the tale is repetitive, given the cyclic nature of addiction and the recurrent episodes it invites.

In essence, this autobiography is comprised of nausea-inducing accounts of self-injurious binges that defy one's imagination and which will cause great consternation and discomfort among those unschooled in narcotics abuse. A concurrent theme of childhood psychopathology runs throughout the book as well, and is of significant interest.

In a recent press interview, Clegg was described as healthy, productive and recovered--although the interviewer noted (perhaps suggestively) that Clegg did duck into a bathroom briefly during their session.
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on June 26, 2010
Let me lead with an original thought that no one I noticed has touched on in case you don't read this whole review- the cover art on this book is so awful. I hate it. I took the dust jacket off because it looked like something that you'd find in a clearance bin at Dollar General. Hated it. I can't explain why - it does not do the story justice. Great title, great read, embarrassing cover. Maybe it is the colors.

I normally don't read books like this, I thought that it would be a good summer book. It was. For 2 days, and then it was over. It is short and it is fascinating. I could not stop reading it. I do not normally read "addiction genre" as people have been naming this. My last book was on the financial legislation of the Third Reich and it's role in WWII. I don't read addiction genre because I can't bear to waste my time on people who throw away a perfectly good life on drugs. And this is what this book is. I do not know how it measures to other books - this was fascinating to me, as a non-crackhead, and gave a creepy glimpse into a world I have no knowledge of. I read an article in Vogue about Clegg's book and ordered it. The article says that he journaled what became this novel while in rehab - while the whole thing was fresh and real - not years later. That might shed some light on how someone remembers details so vividly. Although, of course, with memoir - never 110% accurate. That is okay. It is really well written - Clegg a talented writer and this is a lesson in the narrative and imagery that is well worth it all. Well done. However, like some others, I began to question the whole basis of the story midway through. Drug use is complete self-absorption and this book continues it on. It is... a little whiny. The reader never gets a clear picture of what is really the problem with the author ('distant mother'? what??? did I miss something? When was this woman truly portrayed as distant? Because she didn't address the urination thing?) What was that all about anyway?? I remembered the detail about her having cancer and him not around - who is distant and who isn't? I felt like it was leading somewhere poignant and never arrived. Is there something about that urination thing that I am missing? To include it - and the reaction to it - throughout the book seems to assign blame, yet I wasn't getting it. Not feeling adequate in literary circles in NYC? Boo Hoo. While the Ivy Leaguers and the academic stars were interning and busting their ass, the author was getting high in some part-time job in a convenience store. The thing about the book that is hard to sell is the backstory - not feeling good enough, despite phrases like "Bean tote bag" and "lunching at La Grenouille". Wow. Wow!!!! You were as cultured and well bred as you aspired to be. Son of an airline pilot during the heyday of the industry - nice life in Connecticut - frat boy fun and summers with great works of literature. Sounds pretty nice to me. I know a hundred people worse off than this guy and still - no crack. So, thanks for the trip through the gutter with you - it was, well, really interesting and disturbing - but fizzled a little at the end. I was waiting for the moment when it all fit into place - When I really thought 'what a shame - it's no wonder' - but instead I came away with thinking how people are so weak and blameful and have no merit.

And then I threw the ugly dust jacket in the trash.
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VINE VOICEon August 17, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I love the craft of memoir and this is now right up there on my list. Clegg is particularly talented when it comes to describing potentially embarrassing situations. He treats them very factually and stylistically but spares the unneeded details that are sometimes just too difficult for me to read. There are many lessons in this work about survival, honesty and ultimate redemption. Extremely well written and entertaining.
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