By: Heather Scott Partington
Leslie Jamison wasn’t a stereotypical drunk. She wasn’t a stereotypical student, either. Even at the peak of her alcoholism, Jamison held down a job, published a novel, and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Yale, and Harvard without hitting a conventional bottom. If you read Jamison’s 2014 essay collection, The Empathy Exams, you know her unique voice, her elegant syntax, her capacity for listening to another’s pain and rendering it on the page as something unnervingly fresh. The Recovering is the story of Jamison’s journey to get sober, told through the filter of her research about the lives of other artists and writers. Through the use of outside source material and interrogations of standard addiction narratives, Jamison seeks to make her memoir, The Recovering, an anti-recovery memoir, one that confronts (ahead of time, almost) the nagging voice of any reader who might challenge aspects of the author’s recovery story or, perhaps, the value of recovery stories in general. However, in addition to the author’s efforts to carve out a new type of recovery genre, Jamison’s memoir snags a little in the territory of her own exceptionalism: I am special, the author’s tone suggests over and over in her 500-plus-page memoir. The minutia of my graduate school romance was unique. I am too smart for AA. I am not like other academics. I am not like other drunks.