Two-for-One Review: “Beautiful Boy” and “Tweak”

September 11, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Posted in Memoir, Nonfiction, Two-for-One Review | Leave a comment

Ladies and gentlemen, we may have witnessed the first of a new generation of memoirs: the tag-team family tell-all.  Witness David Sheff and his son, Nic, as they both wring themselves out on the topic of methamphetamine addiction.  It’s like Jerry Springer, only literary.

Beautiful Boy came out first, by a few months.  It’s agonizing.  David Sheff examines his conscience over his son’s addiction, trying to figure out what he might have done differently to raise a child who didn’t grow up to be an addict.  It’s got to be every parent’s worst nightmare.  At least if your child is injured in an accident or becomes seriously ill, you can blame outside forces.  With addiction, though, there’s a certain amount of choice involved.  We feel Sheff’s anguish, frustration, impatience, and finally resignation over the lying, stealing, arrests, rehab, and all, over and over again.  If you’ve ever loved an addict, you’ll be able to identify.  On the other hand, you may wonder whether this family had more privilege than they could handle.

Then we have Tweak.  This is a book of a different color.  (In fact, in the editions I read, Beautiful Boy was white and Tweak was black).  The first thing I found interesting was that we recognize a few incidents from Beautiful Boy, only from Nic’s perspective.  The second thing was that Nic does not mention his father’s book (or his father much either).  Clearly, this is a stand-alone piece.  Nic Sheff writes about the appeal of the street life, what he loves about being high, and his self-torture over his pattern of throwing his life away whenever he finally gets it together again.  Again, for anyone who’s ever loved an addict, this book is an interesting look at the addict’s perspective.  Nic tends to valorize drug culture, romanticizing the lives of addict artists.  He also shows very little insight or compassion toward the family and friends he affects, focusing on how he essentially doesn’t want to work a day job and have a normal life like everyone else.  (He’d rather lie in bed with his girlfriend and watch videos all day, apparently – or so he says, repeatedly).  His attitude is particularly emphasized when he judges the counselors at his rehab based on their looks and their outfits.  Sheesh.  If you are looking for a book to use to warn young people off drugs, do not pick this one.

Neither of these books can claim to be the first drug-related memoir, by any means.  David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy is an unusually good one.  Nic Sheff’s Tweak will largely be read by readers of Beautiful Boy curious to hear from the other side.  His writing is readable, and a refreshing change from all that stream of consciousness that’s popular with younger writers right now, but Tweak lacks much of the insight of his father’s book.

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