Here's the basic idea of Night of the Gun. David Carr as a young man worked as a journalist, drank, did drugs, and got into fights. Eventually he started doing crack cocaine, and his life got more out of control. He was dealing, and he was in danger of getting into real trouble. Around this time, he got a fellow-user pregnant, and she gave birth to twin girls. He ended going into rehab several times, and eventually he ended up with custody of the girls. He gets cancer but the treatment puts it in remission. He pulled his life together, got better jobs as editor of the Twin Cities Reader, the Washington City Paper, as a contributing writer for The Atlantic and New York Magazine, and now as a writer at the New York Times. This memoir tells his story with the twist that he used his skills as a reporter to follow up and check on his memories, interviewing some of the people from his past and getting their versions of events, which were sometimes dramatically different from his own.
It's an interesting idea, and he gets high praise in his blurbs from such luminaries as Kurt Andersen, Jeffrey Toobin, and Richard Price. However, I found the book unreadable. Most addiction memoirs are hard work, since the experience of having an author explain to readers how they messed up again and again and again is akin to having your head repeatedly smacked against a brick wall. Some addiction memoirs are redeemed by having particularly interesting details or dramas. Occasionally they are just very well written. Unfortunately, Night of the Gun has none of these redeeming features.
The book might work better if Carr had carried through more fully on treating the book as an investigation of his own life. However, it ends up being a tale of his memories and then more tales of his meeting up with old friends and acquaintances after not seeing them for ten or twenty years. What's more, he writes in a colloquial style as if he were talking to you sitting at a bar, which works well enough for a page or two but quickly gets old.
The fact that Carr's memory of his days or drugs and alcohol is faulty is no great surprise; it is also no revelation that there are many ways to tell a story, and a memoirist has to decide what facts to select. The most interesting aspect of Carr's idea here is about how looking back on his life, and trying to be objective about it in the manner required by news reporting, gives him a new understanding of his former self. The best chapter of the book is the Intermission, where he reflects on the process of writing the book and hating his former self. Unfortunately, the writing of the book gives very little sense of the distance between his former self and his current self.
Readers would do best to read Carr's article for the Sunday New York Times Magazine, which is better edited than any chapter in his book, and browsing through the Night of the Gun website, which has several interesting videos where he talks about his past and interviews people from the past. The thing is that Carr himself seems like an interesting character, and he is capable of telling a good story. But he is better on camera than he is as a memoir writer.
· Book website
· Me and My Girls NY Times Magazine July 20, 2008
· David Carr on Charlie Rose, August 21, 2008
· David Carr on NPR's Fresh Air
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.