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October 10, 2013

Throwback Thirsty, Anyone?

Posted by emily

This week we're throwing back...a shot or two? honor of our most favorite famous literary drunks. Just kidding, we're not really taking shots, but we are celebrating the writers who liked their drinks alcoholic and often. So join us this Throwback Thirsty Thursday in honoring those stumbling men of letters who managed --- between swigs of whiskey --- to create some of the best and most unforgettable literature. Throw back this throwback any way you want, because --- as Nikki is constantly reminding us --- it's always five o'clock somewhere. 

(Photo credit Joshua R. Mallory)

You might as well be a backseat passenger in Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo's 1971 Cadillac Eldorado in the opening scene of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS --- because you're in for a wild and bumpy ride. Thompson's masterful creation is the spearhead of gonzo journalism, an avant-garde method of reporting that every capable and willing reader of the 1970s and beyond was and still is more than ready to ingest. A volatile and compelling mix of profanity, sarcasm, wit and layered with absurdism on absurdism on absurdism, gonzo journalism and, in particular, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, gives its readers a taste of the good life, free from political tethers, and shows that life isn't all about just achieving some kind of the American Dream, but that the journey getting there is just as anti-climatic and high-strung as you make it out to be. Thompson's message in so many words? Trip over the small stuff, sweat over the large stuff and always remember that "Good people drink good beer."

“Civilization begins with distillation,” William Faulkner once said. But unlike some of the other famously drunk writers, Faulkner liked to write while drunk. He would write late at night with a bottle of whiskey always within reach, and sometimes --- hungover, and in the cold light of day --- he would marvel at his own complicated sentences and concede that he had little idea what they meant. This can’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever read THE SOUND AND THE FURY, his stunning and grim masterpiece about the deterioration of the old Southern Compson family. I mean, could a sober person have written Benjy’s section, or even Quentin’s, for that matter? Of course, I’m only kidding --- as someone who has tried and failed to incorporate stream of consciousness into my own writing, I know that it takes serious control and precision to do it in any even mildly successful way. But there is something kind of unhinged about the prose, a wildness that creates greater dramatic impact, so I wouldn’t be surprised if alcohol was involved. It doesn’t really matter, though, when the product of all the drinking or non-drinking is as good as THE SOUND AND THE FURY.

I could write about how IN COLD BLOOD was a game changer for American non-fiction writing, or I could write about the controversy surrounding the book or events at the center of it. However, what I really want to talk about is the visceral experience of reading the book. Truman Capote was a lot of things, and not all of them good. He was manipulative, cruel, unflinching, witty, stylish, ambitious, alcoholic and brilliant. These qualities combined to make IN COLD BLOOD one of the most suspenseful, terrifying reads I’ve experienced. Though the reader goes in knowing what happens to the unsuspecting Kansas family at the center of the story, each increasingly urgent turn of the page brings fear and suspense. What Hitchcock did on film, Capote did on paper.

The story, of course, is about a family in sleepy Holcomb who are brutally murdered for money they do not have. Capote extensively interviews the killers from death row, which leads to some chilling passages. Of course, events described in the book have been challenged, and Capote was never known for his honesty. Does that really matter to you as a reader? For me, the answer was an easy no. I’ll always remember sitting at home alone, terrified by the events playing out before me. Each innocent noise transformed to an agent of terror. Capote, the master manipulator, knew exactly what he was doing.

ULYSSES by James Joyce is frequently found on both “most influential” and “most difficult” novel lists. Comprehending Joyce’s complex narrative --- and appreciating his writing --- is much easier when you consider the state in which he tended to write, and live. Joyce essentially invented drunk texting and turned it into an art form. This recently discovered text is indicative of Joyce’s intricate control over language, and his habit of getting incredibly wasted:

Part The First
Darkness. You must leave my bar you drunken lout! A terror of spirit seized me. Betrayed by that priest, cast from the confessional booth. Does he not understand? Does no one understand? Sweet muse of the flask, why have thou forsaken me? Ever a humble servant, I stagger forth into the abyss. The Earth takes wing to greet me, and I fall into the sweet mother’s embrace. The collapse sours my fragile being, a slave to the bleak material realm, and I project forth the contents of my inner self. Sinking in this pool of my own making, I contemplate what I was, what I have been, and where I may procure another sweet, sweet dram of amber enlightenment. Why have thou forsaken me? The words sweep into the void leaving me alone. Alone.

Through the frigid realm of abandonment, I struggle forth. The benevolence of O’Connors pub lightens my way; fair Ithaca was never so sweet. Whiskey! I must have Whiskey! You drunken fool! Depart this place. Bitter woman, lost in her own mind, blinded to the pastoral realm that calls me. But what? What do I begin to see, through the haze that calls to me? A beautiful maiden, a Goddess of far away Egypt. When did the lady O’Connor become so fair of body? Her excess material seems to shed itself before my eyes, and in moments fifteen years and three stone have fled her. My lady, grant my troubled soul your blessing. I am beaten with a frying pan. Darkness.

On the Second Day
God my head hurts. What did I do last night? And where is my wallet? Wait, I don’t own a wallet, because I have no money. Crap. Wait, what’s this? Did I write this? What the hell does this even mean? Wait, Lady O’ Connor? The fat one…? Oh no… Well definitely time to skip town.