A bleak yet affecting memoir about a teenage alcoholic’s experience in recovery-oriented halfway houses, focusing on bonds of desperate camaraderie.
In his debut, Macher, who served as a teaching-writing fellow at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, combines the personalized grandiosity of James Frey with the surreal perspective of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. In vibrant, choppy, and sometimes-repetitive prose, Macher chronicles how his youthful substance abuse was fueled by familial strife. Following tangled years of parental rejection, he writes, “I lacked something inside, and no accolade could replace it.” Despite being a promising athlete, he surrendered to blackout drinking: “For the first time in my life, I knew exactly who I was.” Following a car accident, Macher was sent to a series of recovery and group homes. “I’d become the worst kind of kid—fearless and empty—and there isn’t anything you can do about a boy like that but get out of the way,” he writes. Much of the impressionistic narrative occurs at “the House” in rural Louisiana, which was “a kind of extended-stay motel where practicing drunks go to die.” The author memorably depicts its grizzled inhabitants, including Jack Rehab, Bob Dirty, and Program, the terrifying ex-biker who counseled them, and he mordantly examines their attempts to stay straight in darkly funny sequences like a harrowing wilderness trek. The rituals of enforced recovery are emphasized, including scouring group therapy sessions and immersion in the rules and jargon signifying successful treatment or destructive backsliding. “From repetition,” writes Macher, “things began sinking in. I recall no epiphany. At some point, it just became clear.” The narrative becomes increasingly circular as he cleans up in pursuit of romance or the repair of fractured familial bonds and then returns to the House, where friendships simultaneously endured and fractured: “These men had become my family, but our work had just begun.” Throughout, the author displays original language and descriptions of the lonesome addict’s marginalized communities and warped perceptions.
A fresh voice examining addiction and recovery through its sustaining relationships.