REVIEW: LUSH, BY KERRY COHEN

 

When Loose Girl author Kerry Cohen reached her early 40s, she realized she had a drinking problem. Yes, she could get up on time, bring her kids to school, make dinner, chat with friends, and all around have a normal day, but, throughout it all, Kerry was waiting for her five o’clock glass of wine. Maybe two glasses. Maybe a bottle. Just enough to blur the edges of her life that had become a monotony of vacuuming, carpooling, and disagreements with her husband. Kerry had replaced one addiction with another, instead of seeking sex she was seeking merlot. Instead of intimacy, she craved the fuzziness of a nice buzz.

What she also realized was: she wasn’t the only one.

LUSH is a gripping memoir that examines Kerry’s struggle with alcohol, a struggle that a rising number of middle-aged women are facing today as alcohol dependency amongst females drastically increases. A wonderfully poignant and relatable follow up to her memoir Loose Girl, LUSH follows Kerry as she attempts to rediscover the awe in her life, leaving past mistakes, regrets, and the bottle behind.

My Thoughts: With a story that was honest and gritty, revealing all the least flattering aspects of her life, the author of Lush kept me gripped with its intensity. I could not stop following her battles and conflicts, and discovering how she eventually chose a new path.

I could especially relate to how feeling unloved and unlovable drove her choices, leading to situations in which she was more likely to feel those feelings.

Since she is obviously an intelligent and educated woman, I liked how she described the struggles and how she eventually chose to take an unpopular path. With all the hoopla about the disease of alcoholism, I appreciated how she realized that, for her, moderation could be a choice. That particular path was not an easy one, as she faced criticism and raised eyebrows.

She also admitted that her love/sex addictions were as much a part of her problems as her drinking, and that she couldn’t just “quit” love or sex. But she had to learn how to make choices that brought her to a more peaceful place. She described that sometimes you just have to “sit” with your feelings, instead of chasing after something that might make you feel better.

An interesting look into one woman’s world of addiction, and how she dealt with it. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: ALL FALL DOWN, BY JENNIFER WEINER

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From the outside, Allison Weiss’s world looks perfect. She and her husband Dave live in an upscale suburb near Philadelphia with their six-year-old daughter Ellie, and both have interesting work. His, at The Examiner, and hers as a popular blogger whose posts about family, relationships, and sexual issues bring numerous hits…and money. Nowadays, Allison’s job brings in more money than Dave’s.

But Allison finds it more and more difficult to manage her life, and Ellie’s behavior is increasingly frustrating most of the time. She has difficulty keeping all those balls in the air, and Dave does little to help. Most of the time he seems to escape the home for one marathon or another.

The pills Allison takes, the ones left over from her C-section and from a herniated disc, are just to help smooth out the edges. But when life keeps throwing those troubling curves, Allison finds herself constantly on a quest for pills and spending a lot of time in search of more pills.

What will happen to turn Allison’s “perfect” world on end? What will she stand to lose if she does not accept that she needs help?

All Fall Down: A Novel is an engaging story of one woman’s spiral downward into dangerous addiction and the slow climb back up out of the chasm, one day at a time.

The story is told in Allison’s first person narrative, so the reader gets an insider’s view of how her world looks to her through the cloud of denial and the dawning light of a new day as she experiences the gradual acceptance of her condition.

Dave was a remote, detached character, but perhaps only because we see him through Allison’s point of view. Ellie was also the kind of child many parents might want to scream at, but again…Allison’s view of her world and her problematic child were definitely tainted by her own perspective.

I could not put this book down. It felt realistic and troubling, a cautionary tale of what can happen when women bury their feelings and struggle to “do it all.” 5.0 stars.

THE LONG JOURNEY DOWNWARD

17435052Artist Erica Mason moves to New York, after an idyllic time spent in Mexico, exploring that art scene and moving past it.

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.

A JOURNEY THROUGH ADDICTION & RECOVERY — A REVIEW

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THE LIVES OF THREE UTTERLY HOPELESS ADDICTS CONVERGE FOLLOWING AN ACCIDENTAL AND HORRIFIC DEATH.

Monty Miller, a self-destructive, codependent alcoholic, is wracked by an obsession to drink himself to death as punishment for a fatal car accident he didn’t cause.

Dave Bell, a former all-American track star turned washed-up high school volleyball coach, routinely chauffeurs his bus full of teens on a belly full of liquor and head full of crack.

Angie Mallard, a recently divorced housewife with three estranged children, is willing to go to any lengths to restore the family she lost to crystal meth.

All three are court-mandated to a drug & alcohol rehab high in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There, they learn the universal truth among alcoholics and addicts:

Though they may all be sick…Some Are Sicker Than Others.

As the story unfolds, one character at a time, the reader is pulled right into the darkness and intensity of the sickness known as addiction. In many ways, I could hardly keep reading, as each one spiraled downward into the illness, full of denial and caught up in the delusions that control was just around the corner. Like an accident you are watching, you want to see, but you also want to look away. The horror was almost too much.

The author obviously knows his subject matter and portrays the cycle of addiction in an honest manner. His characters are composites of his own experiences and those of others he has known. This quality brings an authenticity to the story. Some punctuation errors were distracting, but the story itself kept me reading.

Recommended for those who want to understand addiction and its consequences, as well as the hope of recovery. 3.5 stars.

A HORRIFYING GLIMPSE OF A BUDDING ADDICT — A REVIEW

On the heels of her early days as a trend-setting shopaholic, Becky Bloomwood Brandon is back as a wife and young mother of a toddler, Minnie.

Still living with her mum and dad after the financial difficulties from the past, Becky hopes that she and Luke can finally own their own home. And she longs to convince him to try for a sibling for Minnie.

But meanwhile, she wants to throw a big, splashy surprise party for Luke in April, on his birthday.

Most of the fun of this book is watching Becky clamor about, trying to pull off the party of the century without spending much money—while acknowledging environmental issues—and still bringing something fabulous to the event.

Otherwise, the story shows us the same superficial Becky who blunders along, displaying no signs of maturity or growth. And even though Luke often seems annoyed by her addictive ways, he is more like a benevolent and amused accomplice. Even a bit oblivious and condescending. Then again, there may be some signs that Becky has learned one or two things from her mistakes, but any insight or growth are not in evidence when she deals with her two-year-old. The child screams “miiine” at every turn, in what has to be a rather grating fashion for anyone standing nearby. Any attempts on Becky’s part to rein her in fall flat.

At one point, a Nanny Consultant spends time with Becky and Minnie, (at Luke’s request), and most assuredly should have concluded that Minnie is a brat. Instead, her remarks sum Minnie up as “bright” and “feisty.” In what universe?

Luckily, most of Mini Shopaholic: A Novel (Shopaholic Series) focuses in on the party planning efforts and near-misses, which are quite hilarious. And I thought that the part Luke’s very stiff and haughty birth mother played in pulling things off was a nice glimpse beneath one woman’s cold façade.

So, yes, fans of the Shopaholic series may enjoy this one, just as I did. But if anyone is expecting Becky to have “bloomed” into a mature person, you’ll be disappointed. Three stars.