I read somewhere once that there's nothing more pathetic than a recovering addict who constantly talks about his or her recovery. Sure, from time to time, I mention on here that I'm a recovering alcoholic, that five years and a few months ago I took a final swig from a bottle of warm Budweiser and haven't had another sip of alcohol since. But I can't imagine turning that into a memoir. First of all, it's a pretty boring story. I decided to stop, saw that my life would be infinitely better if I wasn't a drunken lout, and through will-power and a supportive wife I've been able to avoid alcohol and AA. Nothing strange or memoir-worthy happened. I didn't have vodka bottles hidden in the dog food; I didn't hallucinate colorful animals; I simply drank a lot of coffee, smoked too many cigarettes, and became jealous of people who can handle their booze.
That's not to say that good memoirs haven't been written by the recovering drunk or addict. Pete Hamil's A Drinking Life and Frederick Exley's A Fan's Note come to mind. Two years ago, James Frey contributed to the genre with his painful tale of addiction and recovery, A Million Little Pieces. The SF Chronicle claimed that it "could well be seen as the final word on the topic." Unfortunately for us, it wasn't.
Frey has followed up ...Pieces with another memoir, My Friend Leonard, which picks up where the former left off. Frey is in jail, awaiting release so that he can start his life of sobriety and reunite with Lilly, the woman he met in rehab. It doesn't take long for things to fall apart, for his sober life to begin fracturing back into those million little pieces. Lilly, who has had a rough childhood filled with addiction and prostitution, commits suicide the day of Frey's release. Floored by this news, Frey decides to buy a bottle of hooch in order to squelch the demons that are chasing him. Instead of drinking it, he opts to call Leonard, a well-connected (in the mafia sense) man he also met in rehab. Leonard sets him up with money, which Frey uses to bury Lilly, and a job as an errand boy for some of his mafia buddies.
More than a story of recovery, this is tale of friendship, of self-discovery, of fortune. Frey has a sponsor (in the AA vernacular) in Leonard who not only can talk him away from the bottle or crack pipe but who can supply him with anything he needs, who can provide him with just the right connections to make sure that he has as few potholes on his road to total sobriety as possible. Frey does his best to acknowledge this but he also makes it clear that he has accomplished much on his own.
At some point while reading My Friend Leonard, I had to fight my own demons. These demons whispered in my ear, "Put it down. You have better books awaiting." I'll admit that Frey's story was captivating at times, but at some point I just didn't care anymore. In fact, you pretty much know from the beginning that he's going to come through okay and write a memoir about this, so what about the story makes it worth reading? And at times, it became overly sentimental. When he starts asking his dead ex-girlfriend's permission to date another woman, it took all I could do not to listen to my demons.
I didn't. I made it through the predictable story to an ending that could hint at another sequel if it weren't for the fact that Frey has said that he will now turn his attention to novel writing. In the end I'm glad I finished it, if for no other reason than the fact that I now have a renewed respect for paragraph indentions, compound sentences, and quotation marks. I missed those guys.