Saturday, June 28, 2014

Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis, reviewed by Charlene Jones

Doubleday Canada, 320 pages, hardcover $20.65, paperback $15.16, Kindle $13.99, available from Amazon here.

Drug Addict! The words still evoke images of dark alleys, blood stains, creatures living rat-like lives under cover of night, pale, sick...

William Burroughs' kaleidoscope coverage of his years in Morocco as a heroin addict pour from the pages of his book Junkie with relentless honesty. In that work, we look through the eyes of the addict. That Burroughs himself emerged as a poet, performer (with Lori Anderson to name one) and a very straight edge, very senior member of the US of A testifies to the saying it isn’t the junk, it’s the lifestyle that kills.

In his much touted book, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain Canadian author Marc Lewis steers clear of painting hallucinatory images of the experiences he obviously endured. Instead the author wisely takes a middle road. Using details from journals he kept during his years of addiction to different drugs, Lewis culls stories that make sense, from the point of view of himself as an addict.

 These vignettes reveal his out of control behavior and single-minded focus on attaining and using his drug of choice. He does so without dragging the reader through either pity or scorn, a tough writing assignment in a subject so easily prone to both.

Instead Lewis describes, without flinching, his addiction’s control over his life. No love life, no professional life, no friends are the results. At the end of each chapter, Lewis then describes in terms of Neuroscience, but in easily understood language, what his brain experienced while drugging, while coming down, and perhaps most importantly for future research into this topic, while anticipating the next hit.

Lewis managed to earn his PhD, part of the time while he was using. His account of being busted at a University where he stole drugs from the lab where he was doing research lacks sentimentality of any sort. He was busted and had to make choices. He chose to go clean, stay clean and continue his education.

Since the book refuses any indication of emotional pain that may have led to his addiction, since Lewis eschews any account of himself or his family life that peeps into sordid corners, he relies on interest. He does write in a way that does interest. The topic does interest. However, and perhaps this is part of his skill as a writer, by leaving out any frame of emotions, any description of the emotional pain that drove him to drug in the first place, we are left without seeing him as a hero. Just a scientist who lived life as his own research subject. It’s a good read.

Charlene Jones’ poetry has most recently appeared on Commuterlit. She also writes for her radio program Off the Top with Whistle Radio, 102.7 fm, aired every second Tuesday from 3:00 to 3:30 p.m. (Note: Whistle Radio and CommuterLit have recently teamed up to run a monthly contest. Details here.) You can see Charlene perform her poetry and prose at Linda Stitt's inimitable monthly salon at Portobello Restaurant and Bar the first Saturday every month in Toronto.Charlene blogs at

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Cambridge, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Niagara on the Lake, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Stouffville, Sudbury, Toronto, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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