A personal account of America’s opioid epidemic through the lens of a single family.
Bush’s memoir opens with a bang: “I am hiding from detectives in my parents’ basement. It’s not the first time.” The narrative strategy is strong: Begin at the climax of the story and then take us back to see how it began—and what a story the author has to tell. Beginning with his youthful disobedience, the author traces his increasing use of alcohol and drugs. In part, this was driven by family troubles; in part, by his pathology. “Being treated like a son is all I’ve ever wanted,” Bush recalls, writing in the present tense to give his memories immediacy. “My sisters are treated like pretty young girls, which they are, and my younger brother is told in front of me, ‘You’re the good son.’ ” The tragic irony is that this brother, along with one of his sisters, would eventually die of overdose. Readers looking for the pervasiveness of despair and addiction, look no further; Bush’s family is certainly representative. That’s the central message of the book, which tracks matter-of-factly—without the war-story glorification of too many recovery books—what it means to be boxed in by drugs. However, despite his very real experience on both sides of the issue (Bush now works with addicts in facilities and prisons), the memoir suffers from significant flaws. The author’s life-changing epiphany—“I have a vision of a man in a white robe, maybe Jesus or maybe a guardian angel”—arrives too easily, too unconflicted, to have the impact he intends. Furthermore, the author’s writing is pedestrian, at times pedantic, relying on facile explanations and never fully addressing the epidemic of which his own addiction was a part.
Bush means to make a statement about addiction and the desolation that provokes it, but in the end, he can’t quite make the necessary case.