Caroline Knapp Drinking: A Love Story
Born in 1959, Knapp is an American journalist and memoirist.
In Drinking: A Love Story (1996) Knapp traces her experiences as an alcoholic from the time she took her first drink as a young teenager until she checked herself into a rehabilitation center at the age of thirty-four. Influenced by Peter Hamill's book A Drinking Life, Knapp wanted to write about the effects of alcoholism and addiction from a woman's perspective. Knapp notes in her memoir that she was not the stereotypical alcoholic; she was born into a wealthy and privileged family in Massachusetts, graduated magna cum laude from Brown University, and became a hardworking and successful columnist, writing under the pseudonym Alice K., for the Boston Phoenix. The often personal matters Knapp wrote about in her column may have prepared her for the revelations made in Drinking, in which she examines her relationships with various family members, particularly the one between her and her father, a psychiatrist, also an alcoholic, who was often distant and unemotional. He died in 1992 of a brain tumor; shortly after, Knapp's mother, an artist, died of breast cancer. Knapp notes that the deaths of her parents caused her to drink even more until she eventually sought help in 1994. In addition to her alcoholism, Knapp writes about her struggles with anorexia and the emotional impact of having an abortion and engaging in an affair. Critical reaction to Drinking: A Love Story has been mixed. Some reviewers have faulted the work for a lack of focus and detached, unengaging portrayals of other alcoholics. Other critics, however, have lauded Knapp's honesty, introspection, and focus on self-discovery as well as her prose style; Walter Kirn, for example, called Knapp's sentences "measured, hand-cut gems."
SOURCE: "Her Time in a Bottle: Caroline Knapp's Memoir Recounts Her Painful Love Affair with Alcohol," in The Boston Globe, May 1, 1996, p. 61.
[In the following essay, Knapp discusses with Sege why she wrote Drinking: A Love Story and details her experiences as an alcoholic.]
Honestly, can you imagine a man describing his alcoholism like this?
"It happened this way: I fell in love and then, because the love was ruining everything I cared about, I had to fall out."
Well, that is how writer Caroline Knapp opens her memoir, titled, femininely enough, Drinking: A Love Story.
The Boston Phoenix columnist, who is 36, had her first drink as a young teenager, 13 or 14 years old, and her last a little more than two years ago. In those intervening years she graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and has worked as a journalist. She never wrote drunk, but she has written nursing a hangover.
Knapp is—and was, through all those years of drinking—well bred and high-achieving, a closet imbiber who hardly fit the stereotypical picture of the two-fisted drinker, the two-fisted male drinker, who loses everything to too many bottles of gin. More than two-thirds of the nation's estimated 8.1 million alcoholics are men, but that still leaves 2.5 million women with drinking problems.
That is one reason...
(The entire section is 2194 words.)
SOURCE: "Hitting Bottom," in The New York Times Book Review, June 2, 1996, p. 34.
[Gordon is an American author and editor. In the excerpt below, she offers a negative assessment of Drinking: A Love Story.]
Caroline Knapp, a journalist from a well-to-do Massachusetts family,… believes that her alcoholism is partly inherited, but in Drinking: A Love Story she nonetheless settles the score with her now-deceased parents. Ms. Knapp, a magna cum laude graduate of Brown who uses frequent literary references, describes her household as "an Updike family, a Cheever clan." Her cold and remote father, a noted Cambridge psychoanalyst, had a long-running affair; her mother was so preoccupied with her own long battle against breast cancer that she hardly noticed her daughter's starving-for-attention anorexia. Ms. Knapp's twin sister responded to the family dynamics by becoming a doctor, while the author retreated into drink.
Ms. Knapp was inspired to sober up and write by Pete Hamill's memoir, A Drinking Life. But while she can be a talented stylist, she hasn't recognized one basic fact: other people's hangovers are boring. Her book rambles, and too many stories of fellow drinkers begin, annoyingly: "A guy I know named William," or "A drinker I know named Mitch." The reader is grateful that Ms. Knapp is no longer careering drunk in her car through Boston, hopeful that her recovery...
(The entire section is 237 words.)
SOURCE: "The High Life from the Bottom of a Bottle," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 9, 1996, p. 6.
[Houghton is an American writer. In the mixed review of Drinking: A Love Story below, she praises Knapp's depiction of her own addiction but faults her portrayal of other alcoholics.]
A love story dances on water. The music moves us farther from shore, starts a twinkle in our eyes, and we are new again. Bottle that feeling and you could be King. It's the Holy Grail to an alcoholic. Caroline Knapp is the latest to throw her hat in the ring, dazzling us with her heady description of alcohol's allure and its devastating hold, a high that is near impossible to sustain. In this memoir [Drinking: A Love Story] by the 36-year-old recovering alcoholic, shelves of experience and feeling tend to get neatly labeled and wrapped up with a "here let me tell you what alcoholism is all about" bravado, but really, there is no need to explain; the allusive quality of this insidious, cunning disease creeps up and grabs us.
The message is a little too obvious: Even an attractive, Ivy League educated, award-winning lifestyle editor and columnist from an upper-middle-class intellectual family can be a drunk. "Sometimes, as a way of reminding myself how hidden the symptoms and effects of alcoholism can be. I'll look around an AA meeting and tick off our collective accomplishments," she...
(The entire section is 1119 words.)
SOURCE: "Two Lives, One Lost to Alcoholism and the Other Surviving It," in New York Times, June 13, 1996, p. C18.
[In the excerpt below, Lehmann-Haupt states that Knapp's account of her alcoholism "is a remarkable exercise in self-discovery."]
In Drinking: A Love Story, an eloquent account of her own experience with alcohol, [Knapp] writes, "The knowledge that some people can have enough while you never can is the single most compelling piece of evidence for a drinker to suggest that alcoholism is, in fact, a disease, that it has powerful physiological roots, that the alcoholic's body simply responds differently to liquor than a nonalcoholic's."
If the cause of excessive drinking really is physiological, one might wonder what the point is of reading further harrowing accounts of alcoholism's progress: After all, the disease's course has been traced repeatedly in books and movies, many nightmarishly unforgettable. One might almost conclude that if narrative could teach, no one would drink.
What complicates matters is that physiology is rarely the entire story…. [Ms. Knapp examines] unresolved emotional conflicts at length. What makes Ms. Knapp's book worth reading is, first of all, her fluency in writing about her addiction: "I loved the sounds of drink: the slide of a cork as it eased out of a wine bottle, the distinct glug-glug of booze pouring into a glass,...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Drinking: A Love Story, in People Weekly, Vol. 46, No. 1, July 1, 1996, p. 33.
[In the positive review below, Hubbard lauds Knapp's "heart-breaking honesty."]
Even as a child, Caroline Knapp liked the cocktail hour. The daughter of a stern, distant psychoanalyst and his self-contained painter-wife, she looked forward each evening to her father's first martini, when his reserve would dissolve "as though all the molecules in the room had risen up," she writes [in Drinking: A Love Story], and "rearrange themselves, settling down into a more comfortable pattern."
With a transformation like that, who wouldn't hit the bottle? But in this compelling memoir, Knapp, 37, a columnist for The Boston Phoenix, avoids assigning blame for her own anguished 20-year duet with alcoholism. Instead, she describes with heart-breaking honesty the disease's insidious stages: the early infatuation, when liquor served as a "liquid bridge" to intimacy; the downward spiral ("You have to see all those bottles … and that can be a disconcerting image"); and the final debacle, when her life was a shambles and her taste for booze had become "the single most important relationship in my life."
In A.A. parlance a "high-functioning" alcoholic, Knapp never woke up in a gutter, so she denied the magnitude of her problem for years. Sober since 1994, when she went...
(The entire section is 253 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Drinking: A Love Story, in Salon (online publication), September 18, 1996.
[In the following mixed review, Marcus questions Knapp's focus and intention in Drinking: A Love Story.]
Caroline Knapp started drinking when she was 14, and spent almost 20 years as an alcoholic. Throughout the 1980s she maintained a good front, holding down a high-pressure job at the Boston Phoenix and keeping her addiction under wraps. Much of the time she managed to hide it even from herself: "You know and you don't know. You know and you won't know, and as long as the outsides of your life remain intact—your job and your professional persona—it's very hard to accept that the insides, the pieces of you that have to do with integrity and self-esteem, are slowly rotting away." This acceptance didn't come to Knapp until the early 1990s, when she finally entered a rehab program.
Drinking, then, is a tale of recovery, with the emphasis on Before rather than After. When Knapp sticks to her own story, her writing is lucid and uncontaminated by self-pity. Her account of the way that alcohol "travels through families like water over a landscape" convinces us by its very specificity. Often, however, Knapp is unsure of whether she wants to write a literary memoir or a more general discussion of alcoholism. Over and over she interrupts herself to splice in statistics...
(The entire section is 305 words.)