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ORANGUTAN by Colin Broderick

ORANGUTAN

A Memoir

By Colin Broderick

Pub Date: Dec. 29th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-45340-2
Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Broderick narrates his long, disastrous immersion in alcohol and drug abuse in this bruising but oddly entertaining memoir, limning scenes of sickening degradation with charm and humor.

The author, an Irish émigré, plunges the reader into the bleary secret society of erstwhile Emerald Islander construction workers. It’s a booze-filled, ultra-macho fraternity of stupefyingly hard drinkers who somehow manage to get through a day of hard labor despite crippling hangovers; drinking continuously on the job apparently dulls the pain a bit. An aspiring writer—unsurprisingly, Charles Bukowski is a particular inspiration—Broderick struggled to complete novels and short stories, dabbled with theater and ran a used bookshop in a touching attempt to join New York’s literary community. But answering the siren song of vodka and cocaine required the steady paycheck promised by construction work, and Broderick became caught in a nauseating cycle of blackouts, car crashes and violent encounters with drug dealers. His workmates were colorful, brawny Irish lads with livers of steel and a passion for partying and creative insults. Broderick cannily manages to convey the sheer fun of drinking to excess and living in a perpetual Bacchanal—his story would be infuriating and incomprehensible without this sense of blissful adventure—which makes the horrifying final stages of his rake’s progress all the more grim. The author’s voice is effortlessly engaging and funny, accounting for the unlikely bevy of beautiful young women helpless before his charms. His battle with the eponymous Orangutan, the personification of the inhuman thing that occupies his body while under the influence, also has a perverse buddy-comedy kick. Broderick does some yeoman reportage on the changing face of New York during the ’90s and ’00s, painting the city as a dangerously exciting playground irresistible to a certain species of self-destructive romantic.

Engrossing, frightening and ultimately hopeful.