The Night of the Gun, David Carr’s memoir haunted me while I was reading it. At night I would dream about the book and Carr (and oddly, various Minnesota journalists), during the day I’d think about the book and the issues it represented.
Carr is a reporter for the NY Times who spent many, many years as a crackhead here on the streets of Minnesota. Months after his girlfriend (who was getting high when her water broke) gave birth to his twin daughters (two months premature) Carr decided he should probably become a responsible human, get straight, and raise his kids. The book chronicles in exacting detail the depths of his addiction, the difficulty of recovery, fighting cancer as a single-dad of twins who has recently given up crack, and well, his career as a newspaperman (from freelancer for the Family Times to reporter for the NY Times).
Quite a life. Carr approaches his story (“the darkest story of his life. his own”) as a reporter, going back to interview the people he ran with as a sort of way to fact-check his own drug-scarred, faulty memory. He even hires another reporter to fact-check the fact-checking. It’s a pretty genius approach for writing a memoir in a post-James Frey world (especially when you consider that Carr was a colleague of notorious NY Times plagiarist Jayson Blair).
David Carr Readings:
Thursday, Aug 14 7:30 p.m.
Magers & Quinn
3038 Hennepin Ave. S, Minneapolis
Monday, Aug 18 7:30 p.m.
(with Garrison Keillor)
Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church
170 Virginia St., St. Paul
Though Carr is a witty and engaging writer, sometimes the book reads like a really, really, really, long newspaper article. Which is understandable, because he’s only got his source’s material to work with. However, the parts of the book that don’t rely heavily on someone else’s corroboration are pretty damn interesting.
I haven’t read very many (or any?) addiction memoirs, so all the stuff about being a crackhead was brand new to me. Carr’s stories about what he’d do for a hit (er, leave his twin daughters in a freezing cold car while he went inside to get high) are appalling and fascinating. Some of it seemed so unreal that I had a tough time reconciling that the man writing the book I was reading and enjoying was the same guy who beat women, neglected his children, and pulled a gun on his best friend.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. At times I had to put it aside because it was just so hard to keep reading. And yet, I kept picking it back up.
I’ve always been a big scaredy cat when it comes to illicit drugs. Part of this was due to growing up in the wake of Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No 80s and part of it is Regina Morrow’s death (due to cocaine) in Sweet Valley High #40. Mostly though, I was just really afraid of hurting my brain. I never liked pot because it made me feel stupid and I really, really hated that feeling (alcohol, however, never made me feel stupid, just act stupid). Plus, most of the potheads I knew all sounded stupid which was almost as bad as being stupid.
So I was really keen on reading about the addict experience. Plus, I liked that all that drug-use was not without its ill-effects on the brain (as if the book is some sort of justification for my squareness). Carr’s memory is Swiss cheese, and there were entire trips in rehab and arrests he doesn’t remember.
I really enjoyed the book. I can’t say I loved it, because it’s a tough read. It infected my life. At night I’d dream about passing judgment on Carr and telling him he was a bad, bad man. Only to wake up feeling guilty and lecturing myself about passing judgment.
This is what I like most about the book. It makes me think. Not just think in a passing way, but really, really think about all kinds of things from honesty to forgiveness to feminism (there’s a weird conversation in the book between Carr and musician Ike Reilly about “being a man” [barf] which from what I can tell means taking care of your responsibilities [so fucking manly, right?]).
It sounds so smarmy and bullshit, but The Night of the Gun is one of those books that once you read it, it changes you. You won’t look at things quite the same after it. And that is worth the price of the book alone.
(p.s. I have a similar review on I Will Dare that goes into more about the writing and the choices Carr made in writing this book).