BROKEN PROMISES, MENDED DREAMS: An Alcoholic Woman Fights for Her Life by Richard Meryman

BROKEN PROMISES, MENDED DREAMS: An Alcoholic Woman Fights for Her Life

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To tell a classic case history in terms of interior feelings, and let the reader vicariously live--and emotionally understand--the journey from alcoholic drinking to healthy sobriety."" Those are the goals of this high-strung fictionalized narrative, which--based on interviews with several alcoholic women (one in particular)--follows a composite character called ""Abby Andrews"" through a year of institutionalization, counseling, group therapy, AA, and hard-won recovery. A Massachusetts housewife, 42, Abby has become a steadily deteriorating drunk, swigging vodka from a Milk of Magnesia bottle when not popping Valium; husband Martin, a workaholic stockbroker, barely tolerates her; her older two children, hurt and surly, try mostly to ignore her; only younger son ""Frizzer,"" unaware, is still loving. So, at tether's end, Abby agrees to enter the Riverside Treatment Center for Alcoholism near Cambridge. Drying-out comes first, ""fears dancing like devils through her head."" Then there's individual/group therapy, with Abby slowly learning to acknowledge her illness and gain insights--at first blaming others for her misery, for making her ""feel defective,"" but eventually taking responsibility. Next: a week of intense psychodrama--when Abby's entire family (even poor Frizzer) joins her at the Center for public airings of angers and wounds, with Martin and older son Evan especially reluctant to express feelings. And, though a rocky time is had by all, soon ""something, impossibly, had melted and gelled all at once"": Abby is now ready to try living at home again, faithfully working on those Twelve Steps. (""That night Abby worked on her Fourth Step: 'Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.' Then she would be ready to give orally her Fifth Step. . ."") But, with the family still angry and suspicious, things won't be easy--""turmoil still steamed inside Abby""--so she'll need the stay-tough support of AA meetings. . . before Martin opens up a little at last and Abby seems headed for better times. A few of the confrontations here, especially the mother/child ones, have a painful authenticity. And Meryman (Hope, Mank) works in a great deal of worthy lecture-material on therapy for alcoholics. Overall, however, with overwrought/clichÉd prose and jargony/soapy dialogue, his TV-movie-ish style belabors an essentially familiar story--while the composite approach (in contrast to the starkly specific reportage of a Susan Sheehan) muffles the issues. Well-meaning, with recognitions and some encouragement for Abbys and their families, but weak as drama and weaker as journalism.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1984
Publisher: Little, Brown