Monday, December 19, 2016

Drinking and Storytelling

Last year for a Christmas present I received a copy of Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking. Now that this year’s Christmas vacation is here, I’ve finally found time to read it (aren’t gifted books like wedding thank-you notes? One year to get around to them?). It’s quite good—Laing, a British writer, travels the US on a route that traces the haunts and tortured careers of six American writers of the last century: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (pictured above), John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, and Raymond Carver. All of these writers also happened to be professional alcoholics, and Laing digs deep to find the roots of their drinking in their pasts, as well as its manifestations in their art. I’m more than halfway through, and so far it’s excellent. Laing's gaze is unflinching, neither glamorizing their drinking nor celebrity status, and in its ability to connect the dots among the six protagonists, the book reminds me of another of my favorite multi-person biographies: Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which presented the interconnected lives of the last century’s most influential American Catholic writers: Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Flannery O’Connor.