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“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a guy threw himself under a crosstown bus and lived to tell the tale,” David Carr writes. “Is that a book you’d like to read?”
Good question. Indeed, it’s the question that prospective readers of “The Night of the Gun” will have to consider — because this is that book.
A talented kid without much direction graduates from high school pot smoking to cocaine at college.
He starts a career in journalism that has him reporting on police and government officials by day — and freebasing cocaine at night.
He hooks up with a woman who deals dope. Driving to see her, he’s so blitzed he almost crashes into a station wagon filled with kids. He skids into a ditch, has to spend the night in jail, misses his girlfriend’s birthday. When he finally shows up, he gives her what can’t be bought in any store: a black eye and a broken rub.
He introduces his girlfriend to crack. She gets pregnant. They become so thoroughly addicted that, just as her water is breaking, he’s handing her a crack pipe. Their twin daughters are crack babies.
He splits with his girlfriend, and, because he has a nice job, keeps the girls with him. This does not stop him from locking them in the car while he runs into a dealer’s house to score.
The gun: As he recalls it, he was so out of control that his best friend not only has to call the cops but wave a gun at him. His best friend remembers it another way — as David’s gun.
In detox, his arms are so nasty that the staffers have him reach into a tub of detergent so they don’t have to touch him. It takes a full month for the drug psychosis to wear off. And he does rehab four times before he finally gets clean.
There are 300+ pages like that in “The Night of the Gun” — it is a nasty downward spiral. Reading it, I thought of the Emmylou Harris lines: “One thing they don’t tell you about the blues/When you got ’em/You keep on falling cause there ain’t no bottom/There ain’t no end…”
So, you may ask, what kept me reading?
In part, because David Carr emerges from the darkness into a kind of radiance: a new wife, intact family, great job. And because, at the center of his redemption, is a reason a lot of guys can relate to: “Everything good and true about my life started on the day the twins became mine.”
And, in part, because I knew David Carr. Liked him a lot. Knew nothing about his past. And so was gobsmacked by every page. For those who do not traffic in New York media circles or read the paper of record, David Carr was the media columnist and sometime culture reporter for The New York Times. He was witty and gutsy and almost always fun to read — and, sadly but appropriately, he died in the newsroom he so loved. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
There’s another, better reason I kept reading. I have known a number of people who became addicts. I don’t know any now — some died, some got clean, and those who didn’t drifted far from my ambitious, middle-class circle. As a result, I sometimes find my sympathies for addicts to be more abstract than real.
But at least I can still see addicts as victims of a terrible disease. A great many people in our country can’t — which is one reason we spend many times more money on a “war on drugs” and on jails that don’t rehabilitate than we do on treatment centers. “The Night of the Gun” is a stark reminder that a smart guy from a good family can sink just as low as the hard case from the projects — and that drug addiction can, with luck and skill and love and patience, be cured.
David Carr was lucky. His sickness struck him when he lived in Minnesota, an enlightened state with many treatment facilities. He was lucky to have a friend like Dave, who showed up every Sunday evening to babysit the girls so Carr could go to meetings. (I dare you not to burst into tears when Dave is dying and Carr leans over him to whisper: “I owe you every fucking thing in the world.”) And he was way lucky that a good woman took him in and made a home for him and his kids.
A few years ago, armed with a tape recorder and a video camera, David Carr went on the road to interview the people who knew him when. The results aren’t pretty — there are videos on his web site that made me wince — but they certainly leave no doubt about the veracity of the story that he tells. The columnist who wrote about James Frey is not, in any way, like him.
David Carr now finds himself a “genuine, often pleasant person. I am able to imitate a human being for long spurts of time, do solid work for a reputable organization, and have, over the breadth of time, proven to be a loving and attentive father and husband.”
For all that, he says, “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve.”
— by Jesse Kornbluth, for HeadButler,com
To buy “The Night of the Gun” from Amazon.com, click here.
To visit the website for “The Night of the Gun”, click here.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler.
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