Caroline Knapp Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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."