I’ve long held that those who were shocked to discover James Frey had embellished a good deal of his memoir A Million Little Pieces are either being intentionally naive or a little disingenuous. Junkies lie for the hell of it; it’s how they bridge the gap between who they are and who they need us to believe them to be. And so it is with great surprise that I find myself admiring the latest addiction narrative to hit the bookstands; David Carr’s The Night of the Gun.
I haven’t finished the book yet, but I have just read the wonderful piece he wrote about the book for The New York Times. “Me and My Girls” is deep, compelling look into the process of writing a memoir of addiction; it outlines the careful research Carr undertook in order rebuild a truthful memory of himself at a time when his own memory was faulty and tenuous.
To be an addict is to be something of a cognitive acrobat. You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs — you need, actually — to keep them at a remove. Let’s stipulate that I do not have a good memory, having recklessly sautéed my brain in fistfuls of pharmaceutical spices. Beyond impairment, there may be no more unreliable narrator than an addict. Recovered or not, I am someone who used my mouth to constantly create one more opportunity to get high.
Carr looked up people who could not have been particularly glad to hear from him and asked them difficult questions it can not have been easy to have answered. He collected records of all sort covering that time in his life. He presents his own memory and then corrects it, letting the reader in on the subjectivity of rememberance rather than claiming authority over the story he tells.
He may just be the Anti-Frey; the one junkie whose story we can trust and, in turn, use to create a reasonable sort of hope for those we love walking this same treacherous path. Frey gave us the-junkie-as-hero. Carr gives us the far more complicated, more true story of junkie-as-aspiring-Everyman.