At the London Review of Books: Clancy Martin on Alcoholism

July 27, 2009 | 1 book mentioned 2

In the LRB this month, professor and novelist Clancy Martin offers a brutally candid account of his own attempts to get sober. The piece is affecting, horrifying, and enlightening:

As a child I visited my older sister in a psychiatric hospital, but I hadn’t been inside one for 30 years. Then, on 1 January this year, at about 11 o’clock in the evening, my wife found me, feet kicking, dangling from an improvised rope – a twisted yellow sheet – about a metre off the ground in our bedroom closet. Our two-year-old daughter was in the bed, sleeping, just a few feet away. Somehow the proximity of a child to the parent’s suicide, as with Sylvia Plath’s little children in that lonely London flat, increases the suicide’s shame. I was at the end of a binge. I was also at the end of three years of secret drinking, of hiding bottles and sneaking away to bars while my wife thought I was living as I had promised her, as a sober man.

Martin’s narrative of his own battle also considers the dominant theories of alcoholism (the possession theory; the tragic theory) and treatments for it, including a new treatment – some hail it as a magic bullet – the drug baclofen. Martin’s description of his conflicted feelings about Alcoholics Anonymous are particularly interesting, but it is the unsparing account of his own drinking that haunts me.

See also: Garth’s recent review of Martin’s novel, How To Sell.

is a staff writer for The Millions living in Virginia. She is a winner of the Virginia Quarterly's Young Reviewers Contest and has a doctorate from Stanford. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Times, In Character, VQR, Arts & Letters Daily, and The Daily Dish.


  1. That article made me think of the AA cliche: "My Best Thinking Got Me Here". Theories aside, if something works, work it.

  2. I read that article in disbelief a few weeks ago–I recently had to break up with someone addicted to the baclofen/valium combo. Other things my ex wasn't interested in doing, besides drinking (at a lesser dosage than Martin): sitting upright, speaking without slurring, discussing that there might be a problem, stopping driving, going for more than a week without sustaining an injury from falling over or down the stairs, eating food that didn't come out of a bag or required any effort whatsoever, making any plans more than a day ahead of time.

    I wonder, do you get your sobriety token from AA if you start doing heroin but quit drinking?

    signed "still bitter and knocked on my ass by 2 mg (25?!) of valium"

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