“How much effort would you want to expend on solving a problem that you’re told in the end cannot be solved?” This is the dilemma of alcoholism: it is an obstacle that is always in the path. Author Martha Grimes and her son, Ken, have teamed up to provide their sometimes shared, sometimes divergent views on what it means to be an alcoholic. Both are looking backward at the issue, as they are now sober.
In an account in which they trade off chapters in some cases and engage in dialogue in others, the two embarrass themselves and each other: Ken reminding his mother that he first learned how to bartend as a kid at her cocktail parties, and Martha confessing that she never realized, or chose to ignore, the warning signs that her child was becoming an addict. Between the two, there are all the common stories: the lost memories, the lost years, the lies to others and oneself about why one keeps on drinking. Why would one not? Isn’t the point of life to be happy and avoid pain? And doesn’t booze help you do that?
"Written by two highly intelligent people who have an unusual penchant for frank self-examination, DOUBLE DOUBLE could offer others a rational trail out of the fog of alcoholism."
Martha writes honestly, “Am I glad I stopped? Yes. I only wish the rewards were more obvious.” Yes, she still wants to drink, but she won’t, because quitting was “a miracle.” Ken attributes his success at getting sober to “conscious contact with a power greater than myself.” He can tell you how many days and hours he’s been sober; for Martha, the attempts were more blurred and she isn’t interested in keeping count. But they agree on one very important principle: the only way to deal with alcoholism is to stop drinking. Though she has intellectual quibbles with the 12-step approach, Martha acknowledges that it works because its basis is quitting. Psychotherapy, which she also tried, may tacitly allow people to think they are okay even if they still get drunk sometimes. Conversely, Ken has open adulation for the 12-step program he joined, recalling that “the men I met in the program became the best friends I could ever hope for.”
Between the two mildly differing but equally valid viewpoints, one gets some important messages: denial is a huge danger for addicts; addicts need something to take the place of what they crave most; and alcoholics feel worse, much worse, when they quit drinking. Getting back to a semblance of normality, they learn from others about how badly they used to behave; the mental anguish of sobriety is extreme, including anger, fear and pervasive loneliness, negative emotions that booze once “cured.” Martha tries to avoid clichés about drinking, including the common perception that it is a “disease,” whereas Ken is quite willing to see it as such --- a disease in which the main symptom is “an inability to stop drinking to the point where it causes death.”
Written by two highly intelligent people who have an unusual penchant for frank self-examination, DOUBLE DOUBLE could offer others a rational trail out of the fog of alcoholism. Though classified as a memoir, it could also be a manual --- and one suspects that it was written, at least in part, with that in mind.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on June 7, 2013