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Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man: A Memoir Hardcover – June 7, 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 88 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)
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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."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316054674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316054676
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine 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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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