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Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption Paperback – Bargain Price, October 10, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by Sara NelsonPity the poor shelver who has to decide where to put this book. Does it go with the wall full of Kennedyana, the tell-alls and critiques of the family America loves to hate and hates to love? Or does it go into the ever increasing "recovery" section of the memoir department, packed as it is with tales of debauchery, and finally, painful and hard-won sobriety?Because this offering, by the 50-year-old nephew of President Kennedy, son of the late actor Peter Lawford, and cousin of the late American prince, JFK Jr. (how's that for a legacy to live with?), is both of those things, it is hard to categorize, and harder to resist. There's plenty of dish here, even if it is dish of the gentle, almost old-fashioned variety. (Lawford tells of being taught to do the twist by Marilyn Monroe; of spying, as a 10-year-old, on a former First Lady taking a bath, of partying with Kennedys and Lennons and Jaggers.) But it is also a palpably painful and moving rendition of bad behavior with women and money and drugs, and 20 years of staying sober.If you've read any recovery lit, you already know the drill: the stories of lying and charming and messing up school, jobs and relationships. There's plenty of that, but in Lawford's case, the backdrop against which he misbehaved is in itself dramatic. He writes achingly of his relationship with his cousin David, RFK's son, with whom he regularly did drugs and who died in a Palm Beach hotel room in 1984. (Lawford broke with Kennedy family tradition and named his son for David.) When he arrives high at a family party, the photographic proof turns up in the newspaper—because it was a fundraiser for his uncle Teddy. If this were somebody with a less famous-for-carousing name, you might think he was just another self-dramatizing alcoholic; as it is, Lawford is clearly just recounting his life.Even so, he could come off as obnoxious—were it not for his frankness, humor and self-awareness. Lawford goes out of his way to own, as they say in recovery, his behavior, and while he acknowledges a family tendency, he blames no one but himself. He can also write knowingly and self-deprecatingly about his competitive relationships with his many cousins, his vanity as an actor (he has appeared in films including The Russia House and Mr. North, as well as many television programs but is, by his own admission, no Tom Cruise), and his tendency to refer to his many female conquests as "the most beautiful girl in the world."So where does this book belong? Does it matter? You don't have to care about Kennedys to find this a moving tale of self-discovery and redemption. Whatever else he may have been—son, nephew, cousin, etc.—Christopher Lawford shows himself here to be a writer of talent and grace. 32 pages of photos. (Oct.)Sara Nelson is the Editor-in-Chief of PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Kennedys don't cry. And they don't write tell-all books. So this memoir breaks new ground, although much of the material about the Kennedy second generation has been covered elsewhere, especially in Peter Collier and David Horowitz's The Kennedys: An American Drama (1985). In any case, Lawford, son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Lawford, Rose and Joe's sixth child, uses the family primarily as a backdrop to his own drug-filled, angst-driven life. Like his father, Lawford is an actor, and while only a supporting player in so many phases of his life and career, he makes sure that here he has the starring role. Born to wealth and privilege, he freely admits he ran through the money and willingly accepted whatever the family name got him--which was plenty. After his parents' divorce (which removed his father from his life) and the death of his uncle Robert, Lawford, along with several of his male cousins, spiraled downward, with drugs, including heroin, ruling his life. Lawford says he's written this book on his own, and he's done a fine job of it, freely allowing himself to come across as the narcissist he was and in some ways still is, even as he earnestly offers inspirational nuggets he's found on his spiritual path. You know this memoir works when the pages absent Frank, Marilyn, Sammy, and Jackie are every bit as interesting as those where they're featured. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Despite all the toys and attention afforded him as a Kennedy, no one seems to truly care for him or, for that matter, for anyone else, unless of course they are direct blood members of the first family. Those who have married into the clan are all willing participants in some sort of game or pageant, whose purpose is to celebrate the family name, and to bring it glory. The rules are clear, Grandpa Joe has set them and Grandma Rose is there (or occasion) to remind the players about them, and even when tragedy hits, as it famously does, they all somehow instantly know what the next act is and how to play their parts perfectly.
And yet, at least in the beginning chapters, essential pieces of the saga we know seem to be missing. When the royal court is introduced, and Prince Jack the prominent player, Chris never once mentions ever seeing Jackie--is it possible that she never came to California, or that he never saw her when the family went back east?--and when he first deals with the dramatic moment of his mother's decision to leave his actor father, we are never told why she does what she does.
It's understandable that a child, the child who was Christopher, would not comprehend the reason, but the author of this book was an adult when he wrote it. Why is it then that at first the grownup telling us a story cannot confront his father's otherwise legendary womanizing and pimping for the Kennedy brothers? This blindness to reality adds a strange and totally unexpected Kafkaesque tone to the narrative, intended or not. In the beginning, we are only permitted to see the world as a child would, and yet, as all the world knows, the Kennedy saga is no children's story.
As the book progresses, we begin to understand why it is told in such an odd fashion. This is meant to be a tale of redemption, and we are asked to understand as Chris understands. Slowly. In the very last chapter, he leaves us with some aphorisms about life and its meaning, one of which is "Never believe the myth." How much more powerful this book would be if he had told us what that myth really was.
And if that spoon is not just material wealth, but also talent, intelligence, charisma, and other well respected attributes that we humans revere so much, it can be that much tougher, if we let it.
One of the worst things we can do to our self-esteem is compare ourselves to others, because most of us we'll never be satisfied no matter how much we have, if this is how we seek our self-worth.
There's always going to be someone smarter, more athletic, richer or whatever. That's why Teddy Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
Those were the thoughts running through my head as I read Symptoms of Withdrawal by Christopher Kennedy Lawford. It's a memoir about growing up in the Kennedy family (his mom, Patricia, was JFK's sister), growing up in Hollywood (his dad was Rat Pack British actor Peter Lawford), and growing up to become a heroin junky (he's been in recovery since 1986).
You have to ask yourself how someone with so much could sink so low. Lawford does an excellent job of explaining how and why that happened. As his grandmother Rose told him, "To whom much is given, much is expected." The weight of what was expected is what crushed him. He felt intense pressure to compete with his cousins to follow in the footsteps of the giants who were his uncles.
What I learned from Symptoms of Withdrawal is that all addicts, regardless of their station in life, feel the same things and react to those feelings in the same manner. It is said that the root cause of addiction is our defective relations with others.
Lawford adds, "a healthy dose of self-hatred" to that. He says he grew up knowing that he could never be good enough and his choices reflected that self-defeating belief. That false belief is probably the one common denominator in all addict's lives.
Most who read Symptoms of Withdrawal will probably read it for the inside scoop on the Kennedys and Hollywood, but the best part of the book for me was his honesty and insightfulness about his addiction and recovery.
I also need to heed the advice given to him by a wise man named Milton from LA to lighten up.
Very good book. Engrossing.
David Allan Reeves
Author of "Running Away From Me"
Most Recent Customer Reviews
grip from the start