www.davidsheff.comYou've likely seen copies of David Sheff's memoir Beautiful Boy at Starbucks, your local bookstore, the library and reviewed in your paper. It is becoming a bit of a phenomenon.
I picked up a copy of this a couple of months ago at my local bookstore. The book is about a father's discussion of dealing with the drug addiction of his son. As you might imagine DearReader, YHN was intrigued.
As an initial warning, there may be spoilers ahead in the post or following discussion. So if you worry about that sort of thing, don't read below the fold. Also, this isn't a review, as such, just an invitation to discuss the book.
When I started this post, I was about halfway through this book. I start with this observation because it is relevant; this book is disturbing, worrying and depressing. Perhaps because I have offspring and I can empathize very directly with the worry about one's offspring's health, future and ultimately life. I'm normally a reasonably fast reader and perhaps even a compulsive one. It was the content that stopped me.
I kid you not I was reading this in bed and had to get up and sleep the rest of the night with one of my beautiful children. It took me some weeks, and a long series of plane flights to get back to finishing the book.
In brief summary, the author/narrator is an apparently very wealthy and successful journalist who got married, had a son, divorced, shared custody (but was apparently the primary), got remarried, had two more kids. The family lives in a high-budget locale, sends the eldest kid to nice engaging schools where he associates with people from the upper ranks of society, has all the advantages......
...and starts smoking dope. and drinking. and whatnot. and develops a massive honking addiction to methamphetamine.
The book starts off in a bit of an indulgent way with a lot of handwringing and forshadowing of same, about how the parents' divorce, and a subsequent long-distance custody arrangement, may have set the stage for the drug addiction. It does not help that the setting and age and pop cultural references make it pretty clear that the author is one of those self-indulgent Boomers (that really tick some people off). Stick with the story, I suggest. It gets better.
The books starts to really hum when Sheff gets down to business and describes the discovery of the addiction, as the teenage son slides into the depths, wanders the streets, gets rehabbed, relapses, steals money.....on and on and on. The fear and helplessness and son-loathing and guilt...is all put evocatively on page. I thought it worked rather well.
There are tidbits for the scientists, not much, but being that he is a world-class journalist, Sheff hunted down some meth experts. He focuses a bit on the imaging findings, i.e., of Edythe London and the associated UCLA addiction medicine folks. In particular some of the clinical people who help him to grapple with the nature of addiction.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the nicely-stated but firm advice to families dealing with addiction. That nobody currently has silver bullet answers (and if a treatment place says they do, run), that this addiction process is so far beyond a matter of moral choice it is useless to go there, that the recovery process will not be instant, etc. One poignant section is the one where he details the greatest relief in the minds of some parents in one of his many support groups "Well, at least my kid is in jail so I know where s/he is and that s/he's not doing drugs".
I dunno, I like these kind of books. Many of us have little direct and knowledgeable experience with a family member or close friend who has really been taken over by an addiction. I am unfortunate enough to have a couple of direct examples but only a few. They are very consistent with some of the more horrific personal accounts that end up in memoirs. I find those published accounts convincing and have occasionally passed them along to people dealing with an addicted loved one. They seem to get at least as much out of these stories as they do with my attempts to communicate the science. So don't dismiss the anecdotal nature, it helps to understand.
Anybody read this book yet?
Amazon has a clip of the author David Sheff here.
Apparently the son has written a book as well, which I have not read yet [excerpt here].