Tuesday, August 5, 2008

White Trash Druggie Turned New York Times Reporter Writes Book

Review by Craig Seligman Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) --

I try never to miss a story underDavid Carr's byline. The New York Times's media reporter istalented, aggressive and witty. I had no idea until I read hismemoir, ``The Night of the Gun,'' that he's a recoveringalcoholic who was once a big-time cocaine addict. How big-time? Midway through the book he describes goinginto detox (again) and being told ``to settle my arms up to mybiceps in a large tub of Dreft detergent, a nice low-tech way ofdisinfecting my track marks without involving a lot of hands-onwork by the staff. I had become a white trash untouchable, allfestering pus and contagion.'' He was shooting coke as the nextstep after ``two hard years'' of smoking crack. Even with plenty of gruesome memories to draw on, Carr knowshe's working in a troublesome genre. ``What is the value in onemore addiction memoir to me or anyone else?'' he wonders. Thegimmick (his word) he comes up with is ``to fact-check my life.''Positioning himself as the anti-James Frey, he resolves thatinstead of just recounting his story he'll rigorously report it.His memory turns out -- not surprisingly -- to be a sieve. I absolutely agree that a reporter should get his factsstraight. In the context of Carr's narrative, though, it doesn'tmatter much to the reader whether the handgun on the frenziednight that gives the book its title belonged to him or to someoneelse. (There has been some difference of opinion.) ``The Night ofthe Gun'' still comes down to the story of a junkie who lostcontrol, finally offering what its author admits are ``some verycommon lessons'' on the order of ``Too much of a bad thing is bad.''

High on Writing

For the first half of the book he sails along in an ecstasyof confession -- a type of high that may be available only tothose who were raised Catholic. (The Church is still part of hislife.) Then he shifts to self-congratulation, following hiscareer all the way to its pinnacle at the Times, where he isfully convinced he walks with the gods. The project is an egoist's dream -- getting all sorts ofpeople you've been close to to talk, at length, about yourfavorite subject: you. Granted, a lot of the material isembarrassing, but nearly all his interlocutors are well-wishersand, after all, we're looking back from the vantage of his perchon Mount Olympus. (Excerpts from some of the videotapedinterviews can be seen on the book's polished Web site,nightofthegun.com.) What the author intends as self-flagellationfeels more like group massage.

Bragging Rights

Carr combines two personality types I try to avoid atparties: the invalid who wants to give you a blow-by-blow of hishospital stay and the windbag who's out to knock you dead withtales of his business smarts. (He's also the parent who can'tresist bragging about his children, but this is a social defect Ifind endearing.) I should make it clear, though, that what I'm objecting to is his tone, not his life. There seems to be goodreason he has so many friends. Only once did I find myself really disliking him: when heuses the book to settle scores with his ex-girlfriend, a formerjunkie who's the mother of his twins. For years she has claimedhe stole her kids. The evidence he musters makes it manifestlyclear that he didn't. But is this really the place to knock her down? Carr readilyadmits to his part in ruining her life. Now he has far surpassedher in terms of recovery, success and family. His book is goingto bring him a lot of attention (and, potentially, money) --isn't that enough? The man still fits the old pattern: He'ssomebody who has never known when to stop.

``The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the DarkestStory of His Life. His Own'' is published by Simon & Schuster(389 pages, $26).

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