“‘You know that part about where you dust yourself off and take over the world?’ he asked. ‘That shit is sooo boooooooring. Nobody wants to read about that.’” This is Sam, David Carr’s boss at the New York Times when Carr told him about writing The Night of the Gun.
And he was right.
The book, a 400-page New York Times Bestseller that came out in 2008, is Carr’s memoir: the story of a violent drug addict and dealer who became a world-famous columnist for the New York Times. Carr’s column, Media Equation, discussed the media and its relation to society. He collapsed last February in the New York Times newsroom and died at age 58 from lung cancer and a heart condition at St-Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital that same day. He had been the editor of Twin Cities Reader and the Washington City Paper and had written extensively on the media in The Atlantic Monthly and New York. A fellowship in his name has been founded by the New York Times last September to promote the growth and development of young journalists.
Carr took his rigorous reporting and incisive writing and set himself up at investigating his own life, only to discover that human memory is fallible and might bend the truth a bit, especially when under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine.
The Night of the Gun, divided into two parts, first takes us through the darkest period of his life: starting with that exact night where he recalled having his best friend shoving a gun to his face. Turns out he was the one with the gun.
The rest of this part is on his slow and maddening descent into cocaine addiction: first snorting it, then smoking it, finally shooting it. Witnesses he interviewed for the book come and go one after the other, their testimonies either adding details to Carr’s story or plain opposing it. Testimonies sometimes feel frustratingly unreliable. As one of his old friends from the time puts it: “I don’t know, you’re asking one guy who is drunk and stoned if his memory matches the other guy’s who’s drunk and stoned.” Carr interviewed more than 60 people, family, friends, and fellow coke addicts, to support his reporting. You also get to inspect police and medical reports, photos, and other documents throughout the book.
Carr describes vividly at times what he calls “the Life” of the addict: “After two minutes, or two hours, or two days, supply dwindles and desperation sets in. The spoon is scraped, and if people are geeked enough, they fall to their knees and claw the carpet for a crumb that might have been dropped. As if.”
However, as fun as the parties might be, as a reader, the excitement of it goes thin pretty fast. Addiction is pretty repetitive after all: going through endless cycles of highs and downs, pockets full of coke, then empty.
The second part of the book, relating his recovery after his fourth detox, falls flat. To write about happiness is a tough endeavor for any writer, and it shows. He gets back custody of his two twin girls, marries a beautiful wife (who gives him a third child,) and gets a prestigious job. Then he starts drinking again, is sent back to detox, and goes sober for good. But Carr, trying to give attention to every detail, becomes borderline boring in his recollection of happy events. And let’s face it: the addiction part, with the descriptions of its mechanics and systems, still is far more entertaining than the story of a single father.
As Carr himself writes, all recovery stories go down the same track: “I had a beer with friends. Then I shot dope into my neck. I got in trouble. I saw the error of my ways. I found Jesus or twelve steps or Bhakti yoga. Now everything is new again.” I appreciated David Carr’s care for details and serious reporting. But is that part when he takes over the world “so boring?” Yes, a bit. But happiness always is, in some way.
Carr’s memoir certainly isn’t the most entertaining of its genre. However it is, at least, one of the most carefully reported, and there is some merit to that.
The Night of The Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.
By David Carr
400 pages. Simon & Shuster.