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AUGUST 2006

> A REVIEW OF HAMILL'S A DRINKING LIFE (1994) | jason jordan

If you've read both Angela's Ashes and 'Tis – by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt – then A Drinking Life (Little, Brown and Company, 1994) is going to be redundant simply because there are so many similarities between the two authors and their respective work. How so? Well, for starters, they're both Irish, they both grew up during the mid-1900s, they both suffered through social, economic, and family problems, and they both were raging alcoholics.

Though the subtitle – A Memoir – is ignored half the time when the title appears, the book is indeed a memoir in the truest sense of the definition. Pete Hamill recalls his earliest memories and chronologically works his way up to the latter stage of adulthood, and of course drinking takes its toll again and again, consequently laying waste to just about every facet of the Irishman's life. In time, however, he forsakes alcohol and A Drinking Life ends on a bittersweet note. How much better would his life have been had he eschewed drinking altogether? Or how much could he have salvaged if recognized the problem earlier, and done something about it? Even for the reader, it's a disheartening topic to ponder.

Thankfully, the book is well organized, so the piece is incredibly fluid. There are a few parts to it, but the layout is most reminiscent of a Bukowski novel in which sections are divided numerically and ascend accordingly. The life lessons are easy to recognize, and at first it may seem like a title such as A Drinking Life does not befit the memoir due to all the other issues/themes that arise within. Still, when one dwells on the book as a whole, it becomes clear that while Hamill's boyhood interest in comic books fades, his dreams of becoming an artist are shelved, and his involvement with family becomes distant at best, drinking is the only activity that remains steady and constant – the paradox being that it offers freedom yet demands captivity.

Overall, A Drinking Life is an enjoyable read from a semi-known author. However, his memoir has taken a backseat to McCourt's pièce de résistance and its follow-up, mainly due to the latter's notoriety and award-winning tendencies. But, to be fair, both writers are worth reading no matter who receives your money first.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Jason Jordan is many things. He is staff reviewer for this magazine. He was the host of the BEAN STREET READING SERIES. He was an editor of The IUS Review. He has been a featured writer at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana. His writing appears in THE EDWARD SOCIETY and THE2NDHAND. He teaches college writing to college students. His book is called Powering the Devil's Circus. He is a writer.