“I have gotten things from the [sobriety] program. It forced me to look at the unexamined parts of my life, to acknowledge my deceptions and rationalizations.” So reads an excerpt from Chicago Sun Times columnist Neil Steinberg’s book about a hard-drinking life. Part of the multi-step court-ordered recovery program he went through (after slapping his wife and getting arrested for domestic violence during an apparent drinking binge) hinged on being brutally honest. Likewise, I will be honest in this review.
I very much wanted to very much like this book – to find something here that was deep and meaningful, something that would make me not only rave about this story but also recommend it to others. But, Steinberg fell short.
In 1998, another prominent newspaper writer produced a book called Getting Better. In that book, Nan Robertson wrote about how she thought she had gamed her program of recovery, fooling all the medical professionals and counselors with her high IQ, telling them what she thought they wanted and needed to hear. But they saw through her perfect student routine (in the words of Bob Dylan, she “only got juiced in it”), shaming her into truly adopting a new life. Such is true life and true honesty.
Steinberg’s memoir is a good story that moves along without too much difficulty. Even so, it was neither “a terribly compelling read,” nor “hysterically funny,” nor “a universal essay on human frailty and resilience,” as the book cover purports. It is simply the story of a reporter who drank too much for too long until the legal system gave him no choice but to stop – nothing more, nothing less.
The great take-home lesson of this book is the same one found in Getting Better. One counselor said to Steinberg that he was to always remember that he is “no better, no worse than anyone else.”
To his credit, Steinberg admits to the sin of ego. “Those who have been around me longer are cooler… Something in me must turn people off – ego, I suppose. You see a guy stuck on himself, no matter how he struggles to hide it…” Bingo! Lesson learned.
Plume, $15.00, 272 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.