Recovering (Jamison)

The Recovering:  Intoxication and Its Aftermath 
Leslie Jamison, 2018
Little, Brown and Co.
544 pp.

With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head—demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself.

Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction—both her own and others'—and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us.

All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill.

At the heart of the book is Jamison's ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace, as well as brilliant lesser-known figures such as George Cain, lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here.

Through its unvarnished relation of Jamison's own ordeals, The Recovering also becomes a book about a different kind of dependency: the way our desires can make us all, as she puts it, "broken spigots of need." It's about the particular loneliness of the human experience-the craving for love that both devours us and shapes who we are.

For her striking language and piercing observations, Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new.

With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Los Angeles, California, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard, M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop; Ph.D. Yale University
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York, New York,

Leslie Jamison is an American novelist and essayist. She is the author of the novel The Gin Closet (2010), an essay collection The Empathy Exams (2014), and The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath (2018). Jamison also directs the non-fiction concentration in writing at Columbia University's School of the Arts.

Early life
Jamison was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Her parents are Joanne Leslie, a nutritionist and former professor of public health, and Dean Jamison, an economist and global health researcher. Leslie Jamison is the niece of clinical psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison. Leslie grew up with two older brothers. Her parents divorced when she was 11, after which she lived with her mother.

Jamison attended Harvard College, where she majored in English,; her senior thesis dealt with incest in the work of William Faulkner. While an undergraduate, she won the Edward Eager Memorial Fund prize in creative writing, an award also won by classmate, writer Uzodimna Iweala. She was a member of the college literary magazine The Advocate and social club The Signet Society.

After Harvard, Jamison received an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and later her Ph.D. in English literature from Yale University. Her 2016 dissertation, "The Recovered: Addiction and Sincerity in 20th Century American Literature" became the basis for her 2018 book, The Recovering.

Jamison's first novel, The Gin Closet, follows a young New Yorker searching for an aunt she has never met, eventually finding her living in a trailer and drinking herself to death. The two form a tenuous bond, each trying to save the other's life.

The Empathy Exams, Jamison's second work, an essay collection, shot quickly to #11 on the New York Times bestseller list. Olivia Lang writing in the Times, said, "It’s hard to imagine a stronger, more thoughtful voice emerging this year."

The author's third book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, was described by Publishers Weekly as an "unsparing and luminous autobiographical study of alcoholism." It combines Jamison's memoir of her own alcoholism and others' (some famous), with a focus on recovery.

Jamison's work has been published in Best New American Voices 2008, A Public Space, and Black Warrior Review.

In the fall of 2015, Jamison joined the faculty at Columbia University's School of the Arts. She is assistant professor and director of the non-fiction concentration in writing.

Personal life
Jamison lives in Brooklyn, New York City, with her husband, the writer Charles Bock, a daughter, and  stepdaughter. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 4/16/2018.)

Book Reviews
Extraordinary.… [S]he calls to mind writers as disparate as Joan Didion and John Jeremiah Sullivan as she interrogates the palpitations of not just her own trippy heart but of all of ours.… Her cerebral, witty, multichambered essays tend to swing around to one topic in particular: what we mean when we say we feel someone else's pain.… I'm not sure I'm capable of recommending a book because it might make you a better person. But watching the philosopher in Ms. Jamison grapple with empathy is a heart-expanding exercise.
Dwight Garner - New York Times

Fascinating…energetic, colorful, fun, buzzy, affecting, and spot-on.… Emotional, as well as factual, honesty is the sine qua non of a memoir. Yet this kind of deep honesty—the merciless self-examination and exposure that Jamison displays--is increasingly rare.
Melanie Thernstrom - New York Times Book Review

Brilliant.…  [I]t's as if Jamison has shrugged off her restraints.… We are aware, most fundamentally, of her urgency. This, of course, is as it should be, for Jamison is writing to survive.… The Recovering leaves us with the sense of a writer intent on holding nothing back.
David L. Ulin - Los Angeles Times

Jamison's story makes for riveting reading.… Desire and romantic love are major themes, explored with aching vulnerability and unsparing honesty.… Jamison shows us the human animal in all its wildness, its messiness, and its failure.…  Quite on its own terms, The Recovering is a beautifully told example of the considered and self-aware becoming art.
Priscilla Gilman - Boston Globe

Jamison's ardent writing style and extended-release doses of empathy have made her a consistently powerful journalist.… Ambitious, provocative, lyrical.
New York Magazine

If reading a book about [pain] sounds… painful, rest assured that Jamison writes with such originality and humor, and delivers such scalpel-sharp insights, that it's more like a rush of pleasure.… To articulate suffering with so much clarity, and so little judgement, is to turn pain into art.
Entertainment Weekly

A remarkable feat.… Shot through with real yearning.… The Recovering seamlessly blends the story of Jamison's own alcoholism and subsequent recovery with something like a social, cultural, and literary history of addiction.… It's a neat trick: Jamison satisfies readers who want the grisly details that addiction memoirs promise while dismantling that same genre, interrogating why tales of addiction prove so resonant.… She is a bracing smart writer; her sentences wind and snake, at turns breathless and tense. .… Instead of solving the mystery of why she drank, she does something worthier, digging underneath the big emptiness that lives inside every addict to find something profound.
Sam Lansky - Time

Jamison writes with sober precision and unusual vulnerability, with a tendency to circle back and reexamine, to deconstruct and anticipate the limits of her own perspective, and a willingness to make her own medical and psychological history the objects of her examinations. Her insights are often piercing and poetic.
The New Yorker

The crawl back up to sobriety is as engrossing as the downward spiral in this unsparing and luminous.… The dark humor, evocative prose, and clear-eyed, heartfelt insights Jamison deploys here only underscore her reputation as a writer of fearsome talent.
Publishers Weekly

Jamison's questing immersion in intoxication and sobriety is exceptional in its vivid, courageous, hypnotic telling; brilliant in its subtlety of perception, interpretation, and compassion; and capacious in its scholarship, scale, concern, and mission

Throughout Jamison's somber yet earnestly revelatory narrative, she remains cogent and true to her dual commitment to sobriety and to author a unique memoir "that was honest about the grit and bliss and tedium of learning to live this way—in chorus, without the numbing privacy of getting drunk." The bracing, unflinching, and beautifully resonant history of a writer's addiction and hard-won reclamation."
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for THE RECOVERY … then take off on your own:

1. Leslie Jamison opens her account of her own alcoholism by disdaining the "tedious architecture and tawdry self-congratulation of a redemption story." What does she mean, and does she remain true to her desire to avoid the traps she so dislikes? Does she achieve redemption? Is she self-congratulatory? Is her story tedious?

2. How does Jamison link addiction with creativity? Why have so many artists (of all genres) fallen prey to alcoholism? How does addiction and/or attempts at sobriety affect the creative life and output?

3. To what does Jamison attribute her own addiction to alcohol?

4. What is Jamison's experience with Alcoholics Anonymous? What does she find most valuable? How does she view the sharing of attendee "drunkalogs"?

5. Follow-up to Question 4: The author writes, "The paradox of recovery stories …was that you were supposed to relinquish your ego by authoring a story in which you also starred." What is meant by that observation? It seems contradictory: how does one go about dispensing with ego while creating a story with one's self as its center?

6. What is your own experience with alcoholism: either for yourself or someone (family or friend) with whom you are, or were, close? How much about addiction and recovery did you understand before reading this book? Has it changed how you view alcoholism?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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