Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg (Little, Brown and Company, 2010), $23.99
Like many college students, Clegg and his roommates enjoyed a good time. They smoked a little pot, drank and serial-dated women, pulled pranks, did cocaine, and got high again.
His introduction to crack came from the first man he ever had more-than-fleeting sex with. A hometown lawyer, a man he had known forever, invited Clegg to his apartment for a drink. They talked about the man’s kids and his wife, made out a little, and then the man disappeared into the bedroom. He came back with “milk-colored crystals” and a clear glass tube.
After his first gulp of crack, Clegg says of himself, “He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it.” And from then on, he needed it all the time.
But that (the night of firsts) was all before Clegg repeatedly lied to his friends and family. It was before he left his boyfriend, Noah, at an important film festival in order to fly home to get high. It was before he slept with other men in seedy hotels. His first hit from the clear vial was before his business partner changed the locks.
And it was before Clegg nearly died from the drug that had ruined his life.
Reading Portrait is a different kind of experience. This book makes you squirm, and you’ll want to get through each page quickly, not because the story is good (which it is), but because reading about what Clegg lived is hard to endure.
Starting with a major binge, then moving back and forth between childhood memories and fuzzy recollections of being high, Clegg walks a tightrope between wry humor and wrung-out horror. Early memories are written in third-person, giving them a remote feeling and adding more tenseness to this already-raw memoir.
If you relish a tough-to-read story with edge, you’ll want this one. Like any craving, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man will be impossible to let go of.
— Gregg Shapiro
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.