Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

Dry has a great cover for catching the eye of a subway rider – a small fish in a martini glass. I love a martini glass – not the oversized ones, but the perfect, classic martini. The Writer and I saw the martini glass in a Rembrandt painting at the Met, which sort of ended our “who invented the martini glass?” research.

I’m a beer-at-the-ball-game, wine-with-dinner-and-maybe-a-cocktail-before drinker. Nowhere near Burroughs’ scale, where he shows up to lead a perfumier client of his ad agency through the Met’s Faberge egg exhibit while wearing the previous day’s clothes and reeking of liquor. But if you have even a bit of enjoyment of hard liquor and pretty glassware and the buzzy feeling of a good bar on a Saturday night, which he evokes beautifully in a couple passages, you can get where he started.

It’s where Burroughs ends up that sets him apart, both from the everyday drinker (he ends up being forced into rehab by his agency) and from the typical alcoholic (unless the ceremonial awarding of stuffed animals is part of the typical inpatient facility). Burroughs manages to balance the pathos of ruining his life with the dark humor of being a snobby New Yorker in a dismal Midwestern rehab facility (he picked it because it was gay-focused and expected a bit more panache) and forced to deal with real, raw emotions that he’d much rather drink away. Parts of this had me laughing out loud on the subway and had a bit of a David Sedaris vibe; other parts were quite moving, particularly the grim life stories of fellow patients.

After leaving rehab, Burroughs is far from a model patient, living with a friend from rehab and blowing off AA meetings to date a meth addict from group therapy. Not to wreck on Burroughs, but it’s sort of predictable how that’s going to go. This section doesn’t have the immersive feel of the rehab section, perhaps because it’s covering a longer period of time or perhaps because the AA scenes have become so familiar (just saw one on Warehouse 13 last night). By contrast, the rehab is so weird, so raw, that we feel his shock and the slow assimilation into recovery-life and recovery-speak.

Dry was a rewarding way to start the Subway Book Club – something I’d never pick on my own that proved to be smart, funny, touching, even a bit educational.

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