DEATH GRIP by Matt Samet


A Climber's Escape from Benzo Madness
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Turgid, overstuffed account of overcoming prescription-drug addiction.

Former Climbing magazine editor-in-chief Samet (The Climbing Dictionary, 2011) seemingly lived a dream life as a 20-something devoted to competitive rock climbing. Yet he found himself increasingly dependent on the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which include such popular medications as Xanax, Valium and the powerful Klonopin. He was horrified to discover their addictive qualities and the difficulty of withdrawal. As he struggled with his benzo addiction, he portrays his life as an endless series of failed relationships with long-suffering women, multiple soul-destroying hospitalizations and many go-rounds with various therapists, portrayed in terms of condescending caricature. Ultimately, Samet concludes that only he has the inner strength to heal: “[I]f I don’t research and solve this nightmare myself, no one will. These so-called mental health professionals are not equipped to help someone like me, nor do they seem particularly willing. All they can do is get you on drugs—not off.” The strengths of this book, besides the apparent depth of its pharmacological grounding, are Samet’s descriptions of his rock-climbing exploits. He conveys a sense of the technical discipline this obscure sport demands and its physical risks and emotional rewards. Unfortunately, these passages are nuggets within long, repetitive reflections on his star-crossed attempts to get off pills and his angry screeds regarding the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industries. Samet attempts to fuse too many elements—climbing memoir, report on benzo risks, angry account of recovery traumas—bound together with artificial-seeming dialogue and a melodramatic and self-pitying tone.  

Given the widespread nature of prescription-drug abuse, the book may prove useful to people facing similar circumstances, but reading it is a slog.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-00423-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2013


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