The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames

by

Author:  Jonathan Ames

Illustrator:  Dean Haspiel

Title:  The Alcoholic

Genre:  Graphic Novel

Publication Date:  2008

Number of Pages:  136

Geographical Setting:  New York City

Time Period:  Contemporary

Series (If applicable):  N/A

Plot Summary:  Famous mystery writer Jonathan A. wakes from a drunken stupor to find himself in a cluttered station wagon next to an old dwarf woman intent on making love to him.  Trying to remember how he got here, he reflects back to his adolescence when he first discovered alcohol and made a pact with his best friend Sal to get drunk every weekend throughout high school, thus beginning his lifelong self-destructive relationship with alcohol.  He moves to New York City after his parents die in a car wreck and begins working as a taxi driver, where he meets a drug-dealer who introduces him to cocaine.  After waking up in a garbage can, he decides to check himself into a substance abuse rehabilitation facility.  Unfortunately, after leaving, his life continues to fill with tragedy: a girl he falls in love with abandons him yet continues to string him along, he learns that his best friend died of AIDS, his Aunt gets breast cancer, and he watches the World Trade Center burn down on September 11 from the roof of his apartment building.  Jonathan Ames’s The Alcoholic is a bleak, semiautobiographical tale of one man’s desperate and constant battle to overcome alcoholism.  Featuring flawed and lifelike characters with whom readers can sympathize, The Alcoholic is an emotionally-charged and sobering look at the horrors of alcoholism.  The illustrations are evocative, realistic, well-drawn, and superbly complement the narrative’s tone.

Subject Headings:  Alcoholics; Alcoholism; Addiction; Self-Destructive Behavior; Novelists

Appeal:  Compelling, unhurried, flawed characters, sympathetic characters, well-drawn characters, lifelike characters, character-driven, authentic, open-ended, candid, honest, gritty, engaging, self-deprecating, descriptive, darkly humorous, melancholy, moving, dramatic, melancholy, sobering, poignant, emotionally-charged, offbeat, reflective

3 terms that best describe this book:  Candid, melancholy, and sobering

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

            3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

1)  Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas

In this moving and somewhat disturbing memoir, twenty-four-year-old Koren Zailckas candidly talks about her experience with alcoholism (which began when she was only 14), half-remembered drunken sexual encounters, rape, and alcohol poisoning. She gives an intimate look into the largely overlooked issue of binge drinking among teen girls and young women.  This book is suggested to those who want to read true stories about underage drinking and early alcoholism.

2)  Dry by Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs, in the witty and offbeat writing style he is known for, recounts his stay in an alcohol rehabilitation facility for gay men.  But when he leaves, his recovery is challenged when he falls in love with a cocaine addict and his best friend dies of AIDS.  Simultaneously moving and humorous, Dry is suggested to readers who want a closer look inside a rehabilitation facility and want to read how someone else dealt with losing a friend to AIDS.

3)  Stitches by David Small

Written in graphic novel format, Stitches is a poignant, grim, and deeply haunting memoir about the author’s childhood and adolescence among an emotionally unavailable family.  Young David ends up getting throat cancer from his radiologist father, who subjected him to repeated x-rays, and looses his ability to speak after surgery.  Distant, mute, and alone, David turns to drawing as an escape.  Although this suggestion is not about alcoholism or addiction, readers looking for a similarly powerful graphic novel could not go wrong with Stitches.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

1)  Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

A fictional version of Bret Easton Ellis attempts to change his drug-addled, binge-drinking lifestyle by marrying movie star Jayne Dennis, moving to the suburbs, and becoming a father.  Everything seems well for a while, but when he begins writing a pornographic shock novel his life goes from mundane and peaceful to bizarre and horrific.  He relapses back into alcohol and drug abuse, his house becomes possessed by an insidious spirit, someone begins copying the serial killings in American Psycho, and his neighborhood suffers an increase in child abductions.  Like The Alcoholic, this novel contains similar semiautobiographical elements and features a drug-abusing, flawed character as a protagonist.  Suggested to readers looking for something a bit more wild and offbeat than The Alcoholic.

2)  Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British ex-consul, escapes to Quahnahuac, Mexico on November 2, 1938—The Day of the Dead—in order to cut himself off from his loved ones and to drink himself to death.  His ex-wife, Yvonne, and his stepbrother, Hugh, travel to the small Mexican town in an attempt to save him, but to no avail.  Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is renowned for its vivid and sympathetic portrayal of the horrors of alcoholism.  Like The Alcoholic, this semiautobiographical novel provides an unflinching look at alcoholism.

3)  Factotum by Charles Bukowski

Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego, is a derelict and a drunkard who aimlessly travels throughout America looking for work in dead-end occupations, loose and easy women, and, of course, his next drink.  This bawdy semiautobiographical novel recounts Henry’s experiences in gritty, candid details.  Jonathan Ames, author of The Alcoholic, has mentioned Bukowski as an important influence in his own writing.  Further, Factotum similarly tells the story of an alcoholic’s experiences.

Name:  Zach Musil

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