30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
A sad, beautiful, and important book,
This review is from: The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking (Hardcover)
Many critics and biographers have speculated, pontificated or poked fun at the symbiosis between writers and the bottle, but Olivia Laing delves into their psyches in a quest to truly understand. This book can't help but move you.
Focusing on six well-known American alcoholic writers, Laing, a British author and literary critic, set out on a trip around the USA to visit the places these men inhabited, read through their letters and journals, and speak to surviving relatives, while poring through their published works, trawling for clues, aching for answers. Two committed suicide; two knowingly drank themselves to death. Laing strips the romance and the condemnation from their life stories and paints a picture of six deeply troubled artists.
The book is mostly biography, part journalism about the physiology and psychology of alcoholism, part literary criticism, tied together with interludes of travelogue and memoir, the latter to reveal the author’s personal motivations behind the project. Much emphasis is placed on setting—searching for meaning in the way the authors’ favorite haunts affected both their writing and their personalities—and some of Laing’s strongest writing is in her descriptions of place, in which the language soars.
Why Writers Drink. Does Laing find the answer? I think she does so in the cases of these six writers, though whether that can be extrapolated to all writers and their addictions remains to be seen. Though she demolishes the romanticism associated with artists and alcohol, and provokes deep, thought-provoking questions. Would there have been a “Great Gatsby” or “A Streetcar Named Desire” had their authors not been addicted to drink? As Laing describes in moving detail, John Cheever’s memorable story “The Swimmer” is a journal of his own battle with the bottle. Laing achieves a certain intimacy with each writer, by distilling their excuses and behaviors into literary liquor which is both absorbing and disturbing to read.
There is a certain danger in plumbing the souls of erudite alcoholics—a deep, liquid sadness permeates every page, which lingers for days after finishing. I have to say that my admiration for these writers as people was knocked off its pedestal, but I’m left with a gut-wrenching empathy for each of them.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2014 5:20:42 PM PST
I found this review to be disappointing (as if Mr. Feign had read the book jacket, not the book, and his metaphors were very awkwardly contrived (esp. the final sentences). He tosses us a thin idea of the plot with no evaluation of Laing's writing skills or of her success in convincing us how the celebrated writers she chooses to examine could achieve such creativity and literary acclaim while being such sots.
Posted on Jan 11, 2014 3:25:57 PM PST
"I have to say that my admiration for these writers as people was knocked off its pedestal..." We weren't their friends. We weren't their agents. I am convinced that the only way we should experience any form of art is sans the biography of the artist/writer. The writers also had agents. Some had a Max Perkins as an agent. Max Perkins, at least as A. Scott Berg wrote in MAX PERKINS: EDITOR OF GENIUS, understood the difference between the creativity and the human.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 11, 2014 3:27:35 PM PST
This isn't a creative writing class. Why would anyone evaluate the author's writing skills at this juncture, as opposed to the vapidness of her overworn theme.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 25, 2014 6:26:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 26, 2014 10:32:32 PM PST
Larry Feign says:
Hi Liz. Of course I read the book. I actually read the UK edition which came out a few months earlier than the US edition. I don't understand your criticism of my review. An Amazon review doesn't have to be a lengthy book report or detailed retelling. I was commenting on the ideas in the book, not on the author's rhetoric or style. But if you insist: the writing is lyrical and captivating, hooking the reader from page 1. As for my alleged failure to comment on the subject authors' success while being 'sots', please see the penultimate paragraph of my review. Try reading the book; if you were interested enough to comment here, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
Posted on Feb 6, 2014 5:30:48 AM PST
Felicia H. Wilson says:
Larry, unlike Liz and M, I found your review helpful and very nicely written. Thank you. And I'm sure your mother isn't nearly as disappointed as she'd have you believe....
Posted on Mar 16, 2014 3:07:28 PM PDT
Michael A. Willhoite says:
...a deep, liquid sadness. I like that; it's succinct, to the point and almost poetic. Isn't the English language amazing?
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