DREAMING by Carolyn See


Hard Luck and Good Times in America
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 Novelist See's (Golden Days, 1986, etc.) Dreaming is a searing memoir about drinking: about her family's relationship with alcohol--eventually, with drugs as well--and, more generally, about middle-class America's long love affair with intoxication. This clear-eyed anatomy of how addiction spreads across the generations is not for the faint-hearted. It probes painful regions of the soul that continue to obsess troubled Americans. It not only offers no cure, it offers no final argument against or for liquor. The first part of her memoir is the most compelling. See opens dramatically, painting an idyllic California backyard landscape in which a mother is beating a child. It is her mother, beating her. Exercising her considerable novelistic talents See vividly recreates her youth. She captures her mother's manifest alcoholic misery and her father's cheerful manner of masking his depression; the impact on all concerned of their divorce; and her stepparents' fascinating characters. See's own early marriages dissolve in liquor and dope-fueled scenes, as she and her father begin to move in an expertly outlined hippie milieu. See's sister Rose, meanwhile, long tortured by their mother, disappears into the wilderness of the drug culture. See devotes much space to transcribing Rose's experiences. These prove absorbing enough, but not quite in sync with See's own, despite what a late chapter title calls ``the embarrassing Californianness [sic] of it all.'' The bad times that See describes follow the patterns that obsess recovery movements (in fact, her father and stepmother were early AA adherents), but she refuses to let go of the good times, instead working heroically to cultivate a broad perspective that encompasses both. At a key moment, See claims that ``the second most boring thing in the world after people bending your ear about dreams is people bending your ear about their acid trips.'' But thankfully, with a resolute ``nevertheless!'' she tells of dreams, drinks, and trips all--proving herself exceptional for her brave storytelling, if not for her sobriety. Not the great American novel she and others in her family aspired to write--but a book that will nevertheless forever change how many of its readers imagine whatever the American dream might be.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-43026-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994


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