Friday, September 04, 2009

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff is a wonderfully written exploration of Sheff’s own struggles with his son’s addiction to crystal methamphetamine, a heinous drug that has an inevitability when it comes to addiction. Naturally, Sheff explores the science behind the drug—its history and design, the effects it has upon the user and addict. These details are alarming and the reader gleans an awareness about how the drug can be so destructive to both the individual and the community. Where this book needed to most succeed is within Sheff’s own ability to be candid about his experience, sharing the vulnerability of parenthood. From the very beginning, when Sheff describes his own hopes for his son in the face of his son’s already addicted anger, the reader is drawn through sympathetically aware of how the story is going to unravel and compelled to travel along, never judging Sheff even when he is his most flawed. Superlatives come to mind. Harrowing. Heartbreaking. Honest. I don’t know how any parent survives these things and I have to praise Sheff for how well he manages to communicate his own questioning in the face of the fallout. Naturally he would begin to question what, if anything, he might have done differently as a father, how he might have made choices that influenced his son, where he could have mis-stepped or simply walked another way. Sheff above all else offers no easy answers for himself or his reader, which is how it should be. Addiction isn’t easily answered, whether it happens to a stranger or a loved one. If the answers were easy, we wouldn’t have addicts; we all would know what to do, what to avoid, and what to allow. Instead, we are all left, through Sheff’s transparency, forced to look in a mirror at our own reflection and wonder what we might have done differently all the while knowing it might have made no difference whatsoever.
When I transformed my random and raw words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters, a semblance of order and sanity appeared where there had been only chaos and insanity (13). Writing is enormously painful, and writing this story is sometimes excruciating. Writing every day, I go through the emotions I felt at the time of the story I’m remembering. I relive the hell. But I also relive the moments of hope and miracle and love. (237) It helps to read others’ stories. And it helps to write, at least it did for me. As I said, I wrote frantically. I wrote in the middle of the night and made it to morning. If I were a painter like Karen, I would have painted what I was going through. She often did. I wrote. (315)


  1. I have this and the son's book on my to-read shelf. I am waiting for a bit, as the parent of two teenage girls, I think the story would hit a bit close to home. Also, my family went through my brother's treatment for codine addiction about 25 years ago. The experience ended my parents' already frayed marriage. This sounds like it was painful for you to read as well.

  2. I have the son's book now but I'm trying to finish another book before starting it. If it's anything like the father's, I know I'll be exhausted from reading it.