Will: A Memoir

Grove. Jan. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780802128461. $26. lit
Self (Phone) charges his first-ever memoir with harrowing—and, occasionally, humorous—accounts of drug addiction, primarily to heroin and cocaine. While the author readily name-checks Big Bill Burroughs (Junky), his adventures and suffering crackle with absurdity absent from that Beat Generation bible. That’s not a swipe at Burroughs: his first book was written under far darker circumstances—the accidental shooting of his common-law wife, Joan. Much to his credit, Self shows us everything (emphasis on every), thus defusing any chance of readers romanticizing his buying-and-selling days as an extended hedonistic vacation. The facts of addiction are ugly; guilt and shame as present as needles and opioid nirvana. The horrors of withdrawal cannot be understood by the uninitiated, but Self conveys their affect with existential brutality. From a North London childhood to Oxford, Morocco, to the great Australian outback, to hypocrises—moral and ethical—he explores the complicated relationship between intoxication, risk, desire, and the creative artist. A comparison of heroin’s erasure of fear and tension to that of the author as a child, safe in his warm bed, reminds readers that loss plays a profound role here.
VERDICT Readers of William S. Burroughs and Beat literature, as well as experiential journals from Djuna Barnes, Paul Bowles, and Hunter S. Thompson will find here much to endure and enjoy.
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