The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking

Olivia Laing, Author
Olivia Laing. Picador, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-03956-9
Reviewed on: 09/30/2013
Release date: 12/31/2013
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-250-03958-3
Ebook - 1 pages - 978-0-85786-889-3
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-1-250-06373-1
Hardcover - 340 pages - 978-1-84767-794-5
Hardcover - 331 pages - 978-1-84767-795-2
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The tortured relationship between literary lions and their liquor illuminates the obscure terrain of psychology and art in this searching biographical meditation. Critic and travel writer Laing (To the River) explores the writing and drinking careers of six heavy-hitting American masters—Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver—while visiting their haunts, from Key West to Puget Sound. Incorporating insights from neuroscience, rehab doctrine, and her family’s alcoholic history, Laing reviews the excuses each writer offered for his alcoholism—anxiety, shyness, childhood trauma, hidden homosexuality, creative lubrication, the world’s cruelty—and totals the costs: suicide, wrecked homes, lurid benders, and diminished output. (Williams’s addled late plays may exhibit alcohol-induced “aphasia,” says Laing.) The book’s heart is Laing’s astute analysis of the pervasive presence and meaning of drink in the writers’ texts, and its reflection of the writers’ struggles to shape—and escape—reality. Laing explores this rich topic through an unusual mix of biographical research, astute literary interpretation, and wonderfully atmospheric travelogue; she forthrightly calls out her subjects on their alcoholic evasions and self-deceptions while maintaining a clear-eyed sympathy for their travails. The result is a fine study of a human frailty through the eyes of its most perceptive victims. Photos. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Jan.)
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