It turns out to be the case.
Burroughs is the author of the bestseller “Running With Scissors,“ and those who know that work should be well-prepped for this latest chronicle of his endlessly fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking life. The good news is that just like that one, his tale of trying to “out-drink his memories, outlast his demons, and outrun his past“ is insightful, darkly funny, and brutally honest. Even in its darkest moments, though, it is a more complex and accomplished work. One of its triumphs is that we care throughout about Burroughs, even when he doesnt care for himself.
With his tortured and brilliant mind, it probably is not much of a surprise that Burroughs was destined for an ill-fated love affair with alcohol. A if he didnt have enough reason already to be drowning his sorrows, he turns to alcohol as a means of coping with the selling of his soul as an advertising executive in Manhattan. Its not long before things get way out of control.
In the opening chapter, “Just Do It,“ we get a crash-course orientation to Burroughs world and the role adrinking plays in it:
“It‘s Tuesday evening and I‘m home. I‘ve been home for twenty minutes and am going through the mail. When I open a bill, it freaks me out. For some reason, I have trouble writing checks. I postpone this act until the last possible moment, usually once MY account has gone into collection. It‘s not that I can‘t afford the bills-I can-it‘s that I panic when faced with responsibility. I am not used to rules and structure and so I have a hard time keeping the phone connected and the electricity turned on. I place all my bills in a box, which I keep next to the stove. Personal letters and cards get slipped into the space between the computer on my desk and the printer.
My phone rings. I let the machine pick up.
“Hey, it‘s Jim ... just wanted to know if you wanna go out for a quick drink. Gimme a call, but try and get back “
As I pick up the machine screeches like a strangled cat. “Yes, definitely,“ I tell him. “My blood alcohol level is dangerously low.“
“Cedar Tavern at nine,“ he says.
Cedar Tavern is on University and Twelfth and I‘m on Tenth and Third, just a few blocks away. Jim‘s over on Twelfth and Second. So it‘s a fulcrum between us. That‘s one reason I like it. The other reason is because their martinis are enormous; great bowls of vodka soup. “See you there,“ I say and hang up...We have four drinks at Cedar Tavern. Maybe five. Just enough so that I feel loose and comfortable in my own skin, like a gymnast. Jim suggests we hit another bar. I check my watch: almost ten-thirty I should head home now and go to sleep so I‘m fresh in the morning. But then I think, Okay, what‘s the latest I can get to sleep and still be okay? If I have to be there at nine, I should be up by seven-thirty, so that means I should get to bed no later than-I begin to count on my fingers because I cannot do math, let alone in my head-twelve-thirty. “Where you wanna go?“ I ask him...
The very last thing I remember is standing on a stage at a karaoke bar somewhere in the West Village. The spotlights are shining in my face and I‘m trying to read the video monitor in front of me, which is scrolling the words to the theme from The Brady Bunch. I see double unless I close one eye, but when I do this I lose my balance and stagger. Jim‘s laughing like a madman in the front row, pounding the table with his hands.
The floor trips me and I fall. The bartender walks from behind the bar and escorts me offstage. His arm feels good around my shoulders and I want to give him a friendly nuzzle or perhaps a kiss on the mouth. Fortunately, I don‘t do this.
Outside the bar, I look at my watch and slur, “This can‘t be right.“ I lean against Jim‘s shoulder so I don‘t fall over on the tricky sidewalk...The watch reads 4:15 A.M. Impossible. I wonder aloud why it is displaying the time in Europe instead of Manhattan.“
Given this fast track hes on with this slippery slope of behavior, Burroughs lands in rehab at the insistence of his coworkers, go get tired of his showing up at meeting reeking of booze. He envisions rehab as yet another adventure, but is sent off to a center for gys and lesbians in Minnesota where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. And once out of rehab, he has to cope with to return to his lifestyle, but do it dry.
In Burroughs more than capable hands, this tale isnt a pretty sight, but at the same time, its hard not to laugh. In the end, the book feels much like his real-life experience must have been, an amazing journey that confirms that redemption is always possible while avoiding every cliche that evokes that thought.
“Dry“ is anything but, managing to be simultaneously nutty and Dickensian and ironically, sometimes as heady as a full-bodied cocktail. Along with self-pity, theres no sentimentality or predictably drawn characters here, again effectively convincing readers that theres little Burroughs doesnt seem capable of accomplishing - either in the literary or the real world.