I have just this minute (well, not this minute, but in the last fifteen anyway) finished reading Olivia Laing’s (CLICK HERE FOR HER WEBSITE) elegiac, haunting journey called “The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking” (BUY IT HERE! NOW!) and it was glorious.
“Glorious” is too weak a word. I should try harder. However, “Echo Spring” is one of those transcendent literary experiences in which the prose is not only beautiful, the syntax and structure of such beauty and heft and grace, but also the emotional journey it limns strikes chords, rings bells, seems to have been something you meant to say – have been trying to say and describe – as if the author discovered a part of your soul and brought it to artistic fruition.
So, finding words worthy of it – not something I’m likely to feel I’ve accomplished no matter how long I spend trying. And the subject of the book? Well, listen to this from the Amazon write-up:
WHY IS IT THAT SOME OF THE GREATEST WORKS OF LITERATURE HAVE BEEN PRODUCED BY WRITERS IN THE GRIP OF ALCOHOLISM, AN ADDICTION THAT COST THEM PERSONAL HAPPINESS AND CAUSED HARM TO THOSE WHO LOVED THEM?
In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.
All six of these writers were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often, they did their drinking together: Hemingway and Fitzgerald ricocheting through the cafés of Paris in the 1920s; Carver and Cheever speeding to the liquor store in Iowa in the icy winter of 1973.
Olivia Laing grew up in an alcoholic family herself. One spring, wanting to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, she took a journey across America that plunged her into the heart of these overlapping lives. As she travels from Cheever’s New York to Williams’s New Orleans, and from Hemingway’s Key West to Carver’s Port Angeles, she pieces together a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery.
Beautiful, captivating, and original, The Trip to Echo Spring strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.
If you’ve ever had anything to do with someone who drank or drugged or loved or made art or TRIED To make art to excess (including yourself) – read this book. If you’ve loved any of the authors about whom she writes – and who hasn’t – read this book. It is the kind of book in which I dog-eared pages, underlined sentences, re-read and savored paragraphs. Listen:
- “I’d never been anywhere so abandoned, so profligate in its desire to pander to the basest impulses of its visitors.” (She is talking about the French Quarter in a section where she speaks about Mr. Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”)
- “At some point, you have to set down the past. At some point, you have to accept that everyone was doing their best. At some point, you have to gather yourself up, and go onward into your life.” (She is talking about dealing with a childhood trauma of her own and letting go of excuses and pandering to one’s own assumed victimhood.)
Oh please, please, read this book. It is so lovely, so insightful, such a universal yet personal journey through the creative process and the maturation of a soul, I implore you: buy it today.
(Charlie Smith BUYS the books he reads; he is not a paid reviewer. He reads and writes about books from LOVE, nothing else.)