RISING ABOVE THE INFLUENCE by Stephen Della Valle

RISING ABOVE THE INFLUENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Gloomy, by-the-numbers memoir of a recovering substance abuser.

The author, a native of Newark, N.J., recalls feeling helpless and afraid when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s. That was just the first in a series of traumas that would mark his early years. In junior-high, in the 1960s, Della Valle fell in with a group of Italian kids who drank and did drugs, leading him into a downward spiral of narcotics, robberies and street-fighting. With each arrest, his lenient, oblivious father bailed him out of jail. A few stints in rehab failed to stem the flow of an addiction that would become a “monster” if he didn’t “feed it on time.” A major low occurred when the teenaged Della Valle fought with his brother on the day of his mother’s funeral. His father forced him into a then-experimental methadone recovery program, which only led to more drug use. Random, short-lived jobs failed to redirect his energies, until he met Debbie. At 25, Della Valle married Debbie, had two daughters, got off drugs (though not alcohol) and became a car-selling workaholic. That normalcy was fleeting, though, and the author relapsed with a vengeance, abusing cocaine, abandoning his family to shack up with Donna, a nightclub hostess, embezzling from an auto dealership, becoming homeless and eventually doing lengthy jail time for possession and burglary. Rehab and sobriety bring much-needed clarity. Still, the telling of this relentless self-destruction becomes tedious, making the author’s eventual recovery and convalescence come as a relief not only to him, but to the reader as well.

Della Valle has come a long way, and his story is heartfelt; the flat, lackluster delivery, however, is ultimately a barrier to passion and conviction.

Page count: 224pp
Program: Kirkus Indie
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