Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Report: Liar

17. Rob Roberge, Liar: A Memoir (2016) (7/12/18)

This book, told mostly in the second person and in a random chronology, relates the truths and lies—something the narrator has some difficulty parsing—of Roberge's life, a life divided between addiction and sobriety, a life marked by bipolar disorder and possibly CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy—which, if true (the only real way to diagnose this disease is after death), may cause Roberge to progressively lose his mind. I found myself strangely engaged by the narrator, despite his sometimes awful behavior: he's darkly humorous and eloquently, painfully honest as he describes such pivotal events as the (unsolved) murder of his childhood first sweetheart, years spent bouncing from one place to another in a haze of alcohol and drugs, other years of being clean, his marriage and his best-friendships, his family. It's written in bite-sized fragments that flit around in time, taking us from Boston to Florida to Humboldt County to Holland to the California desert. Interspersed are short accounts of people who have committed suicide—for the bracketing event of this memoir is Roberge's own would-be suicide.
You're forty-three years old. You've been a college professor, a good husband, a good friend, an honest person. The disgrace of being arrested for heroin would burn even worse than taking a newcomer chip. Everyone would know. Shame is an endless white noise of pain in your head. You're confused and overwhelmed and you are as alone as you have ever felt.
 You can't go to rehab. You can't admit your weakness to anyone, even though you know, god you know—what addict doesn't?—that addiction's not about intelligence and it's not about strength. Your whole life has been a lesson in this: Knowing something may make it a fact, but feeling something makes it a truth. And the truth is you are trapped. You have nowhere left to go that doesn't make you feel like your life has added up, in the end and despite some great moments, to you being a loser who just can't stay clean. Who can't keep people happy. You can't function in this world. You're done. Defeated.
But in fact, he's not really done, but keeps rising again, keeps stumbling along learning new things about himself, about life. As one of the book epigraphs, by his best friend Gina Frangello, puts it, "Meaning isn't made only in a moment but in how it is processed over a lifetime." This is Roberge's processing.

One reason I picked up this book is that I "sort of" know Roberge: he taught at my low-residency MFA program (though I did not have him as an instructor) and he's a Facebook "friend," as are several of the people he mentions in the book: Gina and Tod and Patrick (Patrick I actually know in person). So it's as if I'm hearing the confessions, pain, struggle, and confusion of a friend. He makes me care, deeply, that he'll be okay.

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