Cleans Up Nicely opens in 1977, with Erica showing us what her life looks like after. Told in her first person narration, we see that she has “cleaned up nicely,” but the path is a new one. And she feels the disparity between her life now and the “outsides” of the life of Addie McC, who lives in a luxury building. And who is a member of AA, this new world Erica is navigating.
Flash back to the early 1970s, and the story reverts to a third-person narrative from Erica’s perspective, revealing the slow slide down to her “bottom.”
The trip down would not be a straight path. There would be many ups and downs, and whenever she almost seems to have an epiphany, the trickery of denial will insert itself, reminding her that she just needs to control her drinking and using. And she does. For a time.
The reader sees the moments of exhilaration, the fun, the conviviality of the drinking culture that is like a euphoric high that keeps Erica going back for more. What Erica wants to ignore, and even push away from consideration, are the occasional blackouts that occur with greater frequency. And how her behavior dramatically changes, turning her into a person she does not recognize.
What will ultimately penetrate Erica’s denial? How will she finally accept what is happening to her? And will she find her way to sobriety, while still retaining her creativity?
Before her realization, however, an awareness begins to creep in:
“Lying back on the chaise longue with wine, Erica confirms the truth for herself: the relief of drinking! Then, by the fifth or sixth glass, she remembers another truth, the one she always forgets until it is too late. Which is, oh shit, not again! Because once again, not intending to, she has overdone it; she is captive once more to the bottle. And all she can do is drain the thing dry and wake up with the hangover of her greed, her weak will, her shameful lust for the stuff…here she is again, lost in the desert of drunkenness. Ending in some pointless fall, some crying jag, some late-night phone calls. God help her if she goes out on the streets.”
The author has created very true-to-life characters that bring into focus the scenes in this story, reminding me of the times in which they are living. As if I were there with them. Sometimes I feel as though I am those characters, and the slide downward is mine. I almost inhabit their worlds. The bottoming out process is described with such accuracy, revealing much about the author’s ability to explore that universe. A compelling and captivating five star read.