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The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own

Review

The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own

If this was just another “junkie memoir,” as David
Carr derisively describes the genre of addiction and recovery, it
probably wouldn’t be worth the time to follow in his wake as
he plumbs the depths of his once troubled life. Instead, this
pungent, raw, searingly honest book rises above its peers as it
grabs you by the throat and wrestles you to the ground with the
force of its narrative and then lifts you up with its redemptive
power.

Rather than sit down in front of his computer and attempt to
dredge up memories of the past 20 years, like the professional
journalist he is, Carr decided to report on his own life. Armed
with a video camera, digital tape recorder and an external hard
drive, he conducted 60 interviews over a period of three years,
checking his often faulty recollection (not surprising considering
the massive quantities of cocaine he snorted, smoked and eventually
shot) against others’ memories spanning more than 20
years.

The first half of THE NIGHT OF THE GUN recounts in exhaustive
and painful detail Carr’s descent into the depths of
addiction. Blessedly, he displays not the slightest inclination to
romanticize the addict’s life. It’s a desperate search
for the next high, as drugs become the dominant feature of his
daily existence. And it’s a tale filled with deceit, shame
and physical degradation almost too disgusting to contemplate. In
1987-88 alone, Carr was arrested nine times, although he somehow
escaped serious consequences for this criminal activity. In the
midst of his downward spiral, Carr manages to maintain a semblance
of a career as a journalist in Minneapolis. When his first marriage
ends after a few years, he falls into another relationship,
eventually cheating on that woman with Anna, who gives birth to
twin “crack babies” (less than three pounds each at
birth), Carr’s precious daughters Erin and Meagan.

Although not nearly as dramatic as the story of his fall,
Carr’s account of his painstaking road to regain his family
and professional life --- how he made the journey from what he
calls “That Guy” to “This Guy” --- is by
far the more interesting. “I had to learn to be a man,”
Carr concedes, “no pretending involved.” He emerges
from six months in rehab (his first as an inpatient and fifth
attempt overall) to the realization that as between him and the
twins’ mother, herself a drug addict and dealer, he’s
the only parent even remotely capable of raising the girls.

With the help of a compassionate lawyer and the support of his
family and friends who had been exposed to the worst of his drug
and alcohol-soaked excesses, in his mid-30s he begins behaving as
an adult for the first time in his life. A bout with
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a serious but temporary setback. In
1995 he marries again and fathers another child, but by 2002
there’s another relapse into alcoholism and an arrest for
DUI. “To people who do not have the allergy, there is no
clear way to explain the unmanageability that goes with
addiction,” he writes. Carr understands the distance
he’s traveled, but there’s a sense hovering over this
narrative that he recognizes the fragility of his recovery, as if
he’s poised on a cliff in jeopardy of pitching forward into
oblivion at any moment.

Carr hasn’t crawled his way back from professional
oblivion to a job as a reporter and columnist for the New York
Times
on simply an engaging personality and a unique personal
history. His writing crackles with energy and personality, as in
this account of the grim beginning of the addict’s typical
day: “Mornings for an addict involve waking up in a room
where everything implicates him. Even if there is no piss or vomit
--- oh, blessed be small wonders --- there is the tipped-over
bottle, the smashed phone, the bright midday light coming through
the rip in the shade that says another day has started without you.
Drunks and addicts tend to build nests out of the detritus of their
misbegotten lives.”

The controversy over James Frey’s fictional memoir, A
MILLION LITTLE PIECES, undoubtedly will cause some to pass on this
story of the hard-won lessons that can emerge from even the most
dissolute of lives. Resist that urge. This is a masterful work only
a writer of David Carr’s considerable skill could have
created.

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com) on January 13, 2011

The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own
by David Carr

  • Publication Date: August 5, 2008
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1416541527
  • ISBN-13: 9781416541523