** A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill (1994)

Pete Hamill’s memoir/autobiography eloquently tells the story of a drinking culture.  It is set in New York, in a poor Irish immigrant neighborhood in the 1940’s.  Much of the story is similar to his bestselling novel Snow in August in that a boy comes of age in an environment that values ignorant thugs over curious students, corner bars over libraries, fighting over communicating.  With few sober, involved fathers, most boys grow up in a household led by a mother with too many children who ends up working a menial job just to put food on the table while the fathers spend their wages in the bar.  While I assumed that Snow in August was largely based on his own neighborhood and upbringing, after reading this memoir, it’s amazing just how closely one mirrors the other.  So the story moves through Hamill’s life from boyhood through adulthood and marriage; the constants in his life seem to be running away from who he is (or seeking sho he is?) and drinking in order to deal with it.  Though well educated and clearly bright, his use of alcohol as novacaine for life  is not much different than his father’s.  Hamill wanders the world wherever his writing career will take him whereas his father only wanders the neighborhood.  Still, they’re both wanderers who use alcohol to forget, pretend, hide.  As a young boy, he’s wildly into comics, and he has this fabulous line: “Comics taught me, and millions of other kids, that even the weakest human being could take a drink and be magically transformed into someone smarter, bigger, braver.  All you needed was the right drink” (10).  Wow.  What a commentary on the culture of alcohol or escapism or altered reality.  This is a great book.  (memoir/autobiography)

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