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Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast

by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, eds.

Many famous writers have been addicted to alcohol or drugs; the names of Malcolm Lowry, William S. Burroughs, Margaret Laurence, and Gwendolyn MacEwen come immediately to mind. But those who wrote about their addictions often did so in the form of fiction or poetry, going beyond mere documentary chartings by using resources of language, imagery, and form to create art out of disorder.
Editors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane have edited this anthology of 10 essays on addiction with a slightly different purpose. In her preface, Crozier wonders if this collection of addiction memoirs will have a positive effect on its readers. But she and Lane are compelled to admit that there is a blatant self-consciousness about treating literature as addiction-therapy. In striving for a kinship of self-clarification, healing, and hope, the co-editors have prepared the ground more for moral rehabilitation than for timeless literature. In spite of the generally high calibre of writing, too many of the essays do not transcend the banality of fact.
There is also the more practical problem of repetitiveness, for at least six of the narratives centre on alcoholism, with only the slightest contrasts of insight. David Adams Richards peels back the skin of the romantic idea of drink; Marnie Woodrow needed the death of her alcoholic father to teach her how to live her life. Sometimes, too, there is an overly pat or simple closure to the pieces, as in Sheri D-Wilson’s entry, hip and jazzy though it is.
Addiction is a lonely pain, and perhaps the only hope for curing this soul-sickness is to reach out and try to cope with the world outside the darkness. The best-written essays in the collection – those by Crozier, Lane, Evelyn Lau, and Stephen Reid– demonstrate this most strikingly, and may go some way toward making that healing possible.