I have a soft spot for people who spent time looking for a burst of crack, found it, and stuck it in a pipe only to find they were smoking some Parmesan.
And so, after reading his memoir, “Beautiful Things,” I have a soft spot for Hunter Biden.
There are three things you should know about this crackocalyptic memory: first, there are times of great beauty and tenderness; second, it is an interesting keyhole in the president’s family life; and third, you might not want to ask Hunter Biden for advice on how to get sober.
“Beautiful Things” is a mind-boggling “drunkard”, AA talk for the alcoholic’s origin story where people recount, in a nutshell, what it was, what happened, and what it’s now. The purpose of these stories is to show newcomers that they too can get sober and to talk a bit about specific solutions to the drinking problem.
The back cover of “Beautiful Things” features four blurbs, including contributions from Stephen King (recovered alcoholic), Anne Lamott (recovered alcoholic) and Bill Clegg (recovered alcoholic and drug addict), which spring from the vivid accounts of Biden and of his raw honesty. But conspicuously absent is that unmistakable sense of gratitude that a recovering person feels when faced with a story that challenges and inspires them not only to hold on to the true north of their recovery, but to broaden their horizons. sense of the importance of sobriety.
Although Hunter Biden makes it very clear that AA was not for him, it works for a lot of people.
In “Beautiful Things”, the drug addiction prison is always on the horizon. The happy, joyous, free part that sober alcoholics like to talk about – well, not so much.
Biden’s story includes familiar elements (a story of family members who “couldn’t handle their alcohol”) and the usual cast of characters who inhabit a wealthy drug addict’s world – twisted drug dealers, tender-hearted bartenders, strippers, a couple of Samoan gangsters – plus Biden’s roommate, who calls Rhea. She weighs “85 moisture-soaked pounds” and feels like a character from the cutting room floor of “The Wire.”
It also has Hunter on fancy rehab stays, on synthetic ayahuasca recovery trips in Tijuana, cooking crack in trendy Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, and hiding in moldy motel rooms. along the I-95 corridor. There are crooks, unanswered calls from the future president, a handful of interventions, supposedly healing ketamine infusions and this healing heals everything, yoga. The volume of catastrophes and dysfunctions is turned towards the “film deal” volume, where the rubber has left the literary road for me.
While there’s no right way to get sober, “Beautiful Things” ends with what feels like a cliffhanger.
It’s a shame, because the first part of the book is so evocative that I would like to read it again. A living world is summoned in these pages – a tale that weaves alcoholism and addiction into the heartbreaking experiences of loss and grief of the Hunter and Biden families. And they did what they were designed to do: lead the reader to a trap door. This is the one that opened under Hunter when his brother, Beau Biden, passed away.
The road accident that killed Hunter’s mother and sister is followed by a filigree tale of the days that led to Beau’s death. Beau emerges as a devoted brother, who guides Hunter to AA meetings and rehab centers, always there, a best friend forever. As Biden writes, “Beau left a difficult hole to fill.”
But in the final chapters of the book, Hunter suddenly fills it up. In the middle of a crack cocaine binge, having not slept in days, a random couple in a swimming pool decide they just need to meet their friend Melissa. Two decades younger, Melissa tells Hunter he’s no longer a crack addict on their very first date. She begins to erase most of the contacts from her phone and requisitions her computer. A few days later, he proposes marriage
And that’s it – the show is over folks; there is no third act. Melissa speaks on the phone with the Democratic presidential candidate, who thanks her for helping her son find love – which is apparently all Hunter needed to stay sober. Smash cut to credits.
In late stage addiction, the chances of falling in love are pretty good – but the goods are usually pretty weird. While there’s no right way to get sober, “Beautiful Things” ends with what feels like a cliffhanger.
Full Disclosure: I have been sober and sober for almost 13 years. The story of how serious things are and what I do to stay sober includes things my kids don’t yet need to know. There are a lot of near-relapses – including a period around eighth grade when I allowed a lover to override my recovery program. This includes staying sober after my sister takes her own life. Crossing soberly is the El Dorado here. And my sobriety is a commodity – something I can point out when someone else I know is having trouble staying sober. This is how we do it.
What is missing in this beautiful wreck of a drunkard is the ever-present and rotating cast of other characters in recovery.
People are quite open to the idea of being in AA these days, even if it still goes against the traditions of Twelve Step recovery programs. The basic reason is that no one represents AA; the group exists to help people become clean and sober. One of the many reasons AA “maintains personal anonymity in the press, radio, and movies” is that if you say you went to AA and then get drunk, people will think it does not work.
And while Hunter Biden makes it very clear that AA was not for him, it works for a lot of people. And as all AA sponsors say when talking to a newcomer who has an easier way than AA to get sober but who relapses, “How is that working for you?”
What is missing in this beautiful wreck of a drunkard is the ever-present, rotating cast of other recovering characters, helping Hunter help them and, with that, letting Hunter help himself stay sober. Hunter’s solution – relying first on Beau, then on Melissa – is too fragile for the rough roads that recovering people must travel every day.
Our stories are our most precious possessions; they have powers, like amulets, to ward off trouble and serve as benchmarks for others. Hunter’s story is powerful. At some point, he’ll achieve lasting sobriety and make it his true north – or, like too many of us, he’ll die trying. I hope that doesn’t happen, because this book makes it clear that Hunter Biden has a lot to offer.