Longtime doyen of celebrity media, Sessums (Mississippi Sissy, 2007) reflects on how his wild years of partying while working as a journalist left him spiritually vacant.
The author follows up his first best-selling memoir about the allure of pop culture growing up in Mississippi by charting the next chapter of his life as a media debutante in New York and the seduction of celebrity that he found all around him. Beginning his career as a journalist at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine before landing at Vanity Fair, Sessums notably covered Michael J. Fox, Madonna and Courtney Love. However, despite his professional success and hobnobbing with the cultural elite, the author complains of chronic loneliness. Desperately searching for closure and an outlet for his grief, he turned to drug use and sexual profligacy. His self-destructiveness, however, is not an easy sympathy case due to his simultaneously self-pitying and aggrandizing attitude. For instance, can Sessums truly lay claim to his boastful reputation as being “known as a writer uninhibited by fame”? He’s interviewed and written about stars, but, as he admits, he remained “outside the frame of fame” and, at best, was a “heightened acquaintance” of his subjects. There’s an undeniable air of self-importance to all memoirs, but Sessums fully exploits this characteristic, inflating his social position for bragging rights while downplaying it to display his manufactured vulnerability. Sessums’ likening of a New Year’s party as “packed as a well-edited paragraph at The New Yorker” perfectly captures the tone of his narrative: droll and unapologetically smug. He is genuine, though, as he chronicles his descent into drug and sex addiction, not to mention the news that he is HIV positive. Sessums dramatically details hitting bottom, but he prevails, closing the loop on his redemption story—but not without the fortuitous help of his friends. Turns out he wasn’t so alone.
The author’s journey is not without its wisdom but too often relies on anecdotes and cameos to keep it afloat.