Portrait of an Addict As a Young Man: A Memoir

( 43 )

Overview

Bill Clegg had a thriving business as a literary agent, representing a growing list of writers. He had a supportive partner, trusting colleagues, and loving friends when he walked away from his world and embarked on a two-month crack binge. He had been released from rehab nine months earlier, and his relapse would cost him his home, his money, his career, and very nearly his life.

What is it that leads an exceptional young mind to want to disappear? Clegg makes stunningly clear ...

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Overview

Bill Clegg had a thriving business as a literary agent, representing a growing list of writers. He had a supportive partner, trusting colleagues, and loving friends when he walked away from his world and embarked on a two-month crack binge. He had been released from rehab nine months earlier, and his relapse would cost him his home, his money, his career, and very nearly his life.

What is it that leads an exceptional young mind to want to disappear? Clegg makes stunningly clear the attraction of the drug that had him in its thrall, capturing in scene after scene the drama, tension, and paranoiac nightmare of a secret life-and the exhilarating bliss that came again and again until it was eclipsed almost entirely by doom. PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT AS A YOUNG MAN is an utterly compelling narrative-lyrical, irresistible, harsh, and honest-from which you simply cannot look away.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Bill Clegg's crack cocaine binge lasted two months; the rehab, nine; but the relapse rippled into an endless flash film of exhilaration and jagged exhaustion. In Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, this articulate Radcliffe graduate charts his progress from successful literary agent to shaken, fidgety addict to recovery clinic recruit and beyond. Dantesque addiction memoirs like this afford us the luxury of sharing lessons earned at great pain.

Dwight Garner
Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is a mesmerizing bummer; reading it is like letting the needle down on a Nick Drake album. [Clegg] tells his story in short, atmospheric paragraphs, each separated by white space, each its own strobe-lighted snapshot of decadent poetic memory. It's an earnest style that mostly works.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A rising publishing industry star trashes his life during a bender in this intense but callow confessional. Clegg, a literary agent with William Morris Endeavor, tells the story of a two-month crack binge in which he smoked away his literary agency partnership, his $70,000 bank account, 40 pounds (he's forever cutting new holes in his belt to cinch it to his wasting frame), and his relationship with his devoted long-suffering boyfriend. There's crazed excess and tawdry sex, but also a sharply etched portrait of the addict's mindset: the veering between paranoia and a compulsive sociability with the random crackheads he picks up to party with; the shrinkage of the planning horizon to the search for the next hit; the bliss of the high (“the warmest, most tender caress... then, as it recedes, the coldest hand”); the bender's unstoppable acceleration until, like a cartoon character running off a cliff, it has nothing left to sustain it. The author's efforts to impart psychological depth to his addiction—he writes of wan collegiate debauches and a childhood complex about urinating—are less convincing; it's clear that the binge will end when his money runs out. Though richly rendered, Clegg's crack odyssey feels like an epic bout of self-indulgence. (June 14)
Details
Clegg...cuts through the addiction-memoir noise, recounting the glamour and pathos of self-destruction with efficiency and disturbing clarity.
Christopher Bollen
For all the literary musings on drugs, the business of literature is a rather sober and cerebral place. That fact may explain why the memoir of literary agent Bill Clegg, which recounts a nosedive not so very long ago into crack addiction, seems as shocking as his ability to construct gorgeously poetic scenes seems intuitive.... Clegg barrels full force into a spiraling Manhattan phantasmagoria of hot-boxed hotel bathrooms, more-than-willing drug dealers, boyfriend betrayal, insane paranoia, days gone missing, and the endless hunger of wanting just one more taste of the very thing that's eating you whole.
Interview
Jonathan Van Meter
Clegg may not have been able to control his demons, but he is utterly in charge of this material, with a voice that is knowing and self-deprecating in exactly the right measure.
Vogue
Mickey Rapkin
It turns out there is room on the shelf for one more addiction memoir....Clegg spares no one's feelings, least of all his own; it's not the brutality that makes this worthwhile but rather the strange beauty of the stream-of consciousness prose. We're voyeurs, as helpless to stop the carnage as the author himself.
GQ
Jay McInerney
Bill Clegg... has written a streamlined, hair-raising, high-torque memoir...Even though we know how the story must end, it's hard to believe Clegg will survive the ordeal he describes in such horrific detail.
Vanity Fair
Dwight Garner
One of the reasons to stick with Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is the lightly narcotized sensorium of Mr. Clegg's prose.... He can write.
The New York Times
David Carr
Rings true in brutal, blunt strokes.
The New York Times Book Review
Maggie Fergusson
This narrative of addiction is itself addictive, and strangely beautiful.
The Economist
Susan Juby
I raced through the book in an evening.... That Clegg survived and is well enough to write a book this good is incredible.
The Globe and Mail
Kirk Davis Swinehart
Bill Clegg has written an exceptionally fine addition to a genre largely bereft of style, intelligence, and moral complexity.... It's plain to see that people stuck by him because they enjoy his company, because he inspires fierce loyalty. Now, at last, Bill Clegg seems capable of believing it.
Chicago Tribune
Newsweek
"Many first-time memoirists are motivated by self-serving desires: to make the world notice them or to make the world like them. Neither can be said of Bill Clegg."
The New York Times Book Review
"Rings true in brutal, blunt strokes."
The Economist
"This narrative of addiction is itself addictive, and strangely beautiful."
Irvine Welsh
"Bill Clegg's story of a man-largely locked in hotel rooms, engaged in a desperate, heart-wrenching battle with himself--is destined to become a cult classic of writing on drug addiction."
Elinor Lipman
"I devoured Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, couldn't put it down. The writing throughout is beautiful, and all the while it is reportorial and efficient and honest--a rare combination of feats!"
The New York Times
"One of the reasons to stick with Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is the lightly narcotized sensorium of Mr. Clegg's prose.... He can write."
The Globe and Mail
"I raced through the book in an evening.... That Clegg survived and is well enough to write a book this good is incredible."
Chicago Tribune
"Bill Clegg has written an exceptionally fine addition to a genre largely bereft of style, intelligence, and moral complexity.... It's plain to see that people stuck by him because they enjoy his company, because he inspires fierce loyalty. Now, at last, Bill Clegg seems capable of believing it."
Andrew O'Hagan
"Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is an instant classic. Anybody who knows anything about addiction will feel morally altered by this book. To an extraordinary degree, it has both beauty and truth."
Danielle Trussoni
"Bill Clegg's memoir is a startling, hair-raising, and compulsively readable account of one man's descent into the hell of addiction."
Vogue
"Clegg may not have been able to control his demons, but he is utterly in charge of this material, with a voice that is knowing and self-deprecating in exactly the right measure."
GQ
"It turns out there is room on the shelf for one more addiction memoir....Clegg spares no one's feelings, least of all his own; it's not the brutality that makes this worthwhile but rather the strange beauty of the stream-of consciousness prose. We're voyeurs, as helpless to stop the carnage as the author himself."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594448990
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 6/7/2010
  • Pages: 222
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Clegg
Bill Clegg is a literary agent in New York. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is his first book.
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First Chapter

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man

A Memoir
By Clegg, Bill

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2010 Clegg, Bill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316054676

Scrapers

I can’t leave and there isn’t enough.

Mark is at full tilt, barking hear-it-here-first wisdom from the edge of his black vinyl sofa. He looks like a translator for the deaf moving at triple speed—hands flapping, arms and shoulders jerking. His legs move, too, but only to fold and refold at regular intervals beneath his tall, skeletal frame. The leg crossing is the only thing about Mark with any order. The rest is a riot of sudden movements and spasms—he’s a marionette at the mercy of a brutal puppeteer. His eyes, like mine, are dull black marbles.

Mark is squawking about a crack dealer he used to buy from who’s been busted—how he saw it coming, how he always does—but I’m not paying attention. All that matters to me is that we’ve reached the end of our bag. The thumb-size clear plastic mini zip-lock that once bulged with chunks of crack is now empty. It’s daybreak and the dealers have turned off their phones.

My two dealers are named Rico and Happy. According to Mark, all crack dealers are named Rico and Happy. Rico hasn’t shown up the last few times I’ve called. Mark, who makes it his business to know the day-to-day movements and shifting status of a handful of dealers, says Rico’s Xanax habit has resurfaced and is beginning to slow him down. Last year he didn’t leave his apartment in Washington Heights for three months. So for now I call Happy, who shows up after midnight when the $1,000 limit on my cash card zeroes out and I can start withdrawing again. Happy is the more reliable of the two, but Rico will often deliver at odd hours when the other dealers won’t. He’ll come in the middle of the day, hours late but when the rest are asleep and closed for business. He’ll complain and give you a skimpy bag, but he’ll come. With Mark’s phone, I dial Rico’s number but his voice mail is full and not accepting messages. I dial Happy’s and it goes straight to voice mail.

Happy and Rico sell crack. They don’t sell cocaine to be inhaled, pot, Ecstasy, or anything else. I buy only bags of precooked crack. Some people will insist on cooking their own—a tricky operation that involves cocaine, baking soda, water, and a stove top—but the few times I tried this, I wasted the coke, burned my hands, and ended up with a wet glob that was barely smokable.

Give me the scraper, Mark barks. His stem—the small glass tube packed on one end with Brillo pad wire—is caked with residue, so after he scrapes it out and packs the end again, we can count on at least a few more hits. He folds his legs in a spidery arrangement and for a moment appears as if he will tip over. He looks like he’s in his sixties—gray-faced, wrinkled, jutting bones—but claims he’s in his early forties. I’ve been coming to his apartment for over three years, with increasing frequency, to get high.

I pass him the craggy metal strip that had until last night been the support behind the nylon web of an umbrella. Scrapers come from all sorts of things—wire coat hangers mostly, the ones without paint; but umbrellas have long thin metal strips, sometimes hollow half cylinders, that are particularly effective at cleaning out stems and generating a miracle hit or two when the bag is empty and before the need comes to check the couch and floor for what I call crumbs, what Mark calls bits, but what all crack addicts know is their last resort until they can get another bag.

I reach toward Mark to pass him the scraper and he flinches. The stem slips from his hands, falls in slow motion between us, and shatters on the scuffed parquet floor.

Mark gasps more than speaks. Oh. Oh no. Oh Jesus, no. In a flash he’s down on all fours picking through the debris. He rescues several of the larger pieces of glass, brings them back to the coffee table, lays them out, one by one, and begins picking and scratching at them with the scraper. Let’s see. Let’s see. He mumbles to himself as he maneuvers frantically over each shard. Again, his joints and hands and limbs seem animated not by life but by strings pulling and tugging him—furiously, meticulously—through a marionette’s pantomime of a fevered prospector scrabbling through his pan for flecks of gold.

Mark finds no gold. He puts down the scraper, the bits of glass, and his movements come to a halt. He collapses back into the couch, where I can practically see the strings that held him aloft now glide down around him. The bag is empty and it’s six a.m. We’ve been at it for six days and five nights and all the other stems are destroyed.

Morning glows behind the drawn blinds. Minutes pass and nothing but the low whine of the garbage trucks outside cuts the quiet. My neck throbs and the muscles in my shoulder feel thick and tight. The throbbing keeps time with my heart, which slams in my chest like an angry fist. I can’t stop my body from rocking. I watch Mark get up to begin sweeping the glass and notice how his body rocks with mine, how our sway is synchronized—like two underwater weeds bending to the same current—and am both horrified and comforted to recognize how alike we are in the desolate crash that follows when the drugs run out.

The creeping horror of these past few weeks—relapsing; leaving Noah, my boyfriend, at the Sundance Film Festival nearly a week early; e-mailing my business partner, Kate, and letting her know that she can do what she wants with our business, that I’m not coming back; checking in and out of a rehab in New Canaan, Connecticut; spending a string of nights at the 60 Thompson hotel and then diving into the gritty crackscape of Mark’s apartment with the drifters there who latch onto the free drugs that come with someone on a bender. The awful footage of my near-history flashes behind my eyes, just as the clear future of not having a bag and knowing another won’t be had for hours rises up, sharp as the new day.

I don’t know yet that I will push through these grim, jittery hours until evening, when Happy will turn his cell phone back on and deliver more. I don’t yet know that I will keep this going—here and in other places like it—for over a month. That I will lose almost forty pounds, so that, at thirty-four, I will weigh less than I did in the eighth grade.

It’s also too soon to see the new locks on my office door. Kate will change them after she discovers I have come in at night. This will be weeks from now. She’ll worry that I might steal things to pay for drugs, but I’ll go there only to sit at my desk a few more times. To say good-bye to the part of me that, on the surface anyway, had worked the best. Through the large open window behind my desk, I’ll look out at the Empire State Building, with its weary authority and shoulders of colored light. The city will seem different then, less mine, farther away. And Broadway, ten stories below, will be empty, a dark canyon of gray and black stretching north from 26th Street to Times Square.

On one of those nights, before the locks are changed, I’ll climb up into the window and dangle my feet, scooch close to the edge and hover there in the cold February air for what seems like hours. I’ll crawl down, sit at the desk again and get high. I’ll remember how excited everyone was when we opened nearly five years before. Kate, the staff, our families. My clients—novelists, poets, essayists, short story writers—came with me from the old literary agency, the place where I’d started as an assistant when I first came to New York. They came with me, and there was so much faith in what lay ahead, so much faith in me. I’ll stare at all the contracts and memos and galleys piled on my desk and marvel that I once had something to do with these things, those people. That I had been counted on.

On Mark’s couch I watch my legs shake and wonder if there is a Xanax in his medicine cabinet. I wonder if I should leave and find a hotel. I have with me my passport, the clothes on my back, a cash card, and the black NYC Parks & Rec Department cap I recently found in the back of a cab, the one with the green maple leaf stitched on the front. There is still money in my checking account. Almost forty grand. I wonder how I’ve made it this far; how by some unwanted miracle my heart hasn’t stopped.

Mark is shouting from the kitchen, but I don’t hear what he’s saying.

My cell phone rings, but it is buried under a pile of blankets and sheets in the next room, and I don’t hear that either. I’ll find it later, the voice mail full of terrified calls from friends and family and Noah. I’ll listen to the beginning of one and erase it along with the rest.

I won’t hear the tumble of the new locks on the door of the apartment where Noah and I have lived for eight years—how the sound has changed from a bright pop to a low click as the bolt flies free while his hand turns the new key for the first time. I can’t hear any of this. Cannot feel any of these things that have happened or are about to as the construction that was my life dismantles—lock by lock, client by client, dollar by dollar, trust by trust.

The only thing I hear as Mark angrily sweeps the glass from the floor, and the only thing I feel as the city rustles to life outside, are the barking demands at the end of the marionette strings. Through the endless morning and the crawling afternoon hours, and after, they grow louder, more insistent; tug harder, yank rougher, shake the cash card from my wallet, dollars from my pockets, loose change from my coat, color from my eyes, life out of me.



Continues...

Excerpted from Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Clegg, Bill Copyright © 2010 by Clegg, Bill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 43 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2010

    Loved

    I thought the book gave a good glimpse into the life of an addict. He didn't sugar coat anything! Well written. He may have written it to give closure to that part of his life....to close the door on it! That is my hope for him!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2010

    Another money making sob story!!

    Nothing new or unique about this book. Its just out there to gain sympathy like all other addiction memoirs. The literary agent to being an agent. He's clearly better at being an agent or at least one would hope so.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2010

    an incredibly powerful, must-read

    of all the books i've read; never moved to write a review.
    a must-read -
    well-written, powerful without preaching - an honest account of one man's experiences...

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Memoir that becomes annoying rather than empathetic

    It can be a struggle to make it through this memoir PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT AS A YOUNG MAN. Bill Clegg's life situation and changes due to his extraordinary utter addiction to smoking crack could have been developed into a keener understanding of why addiction is such a devastating disease, but instead Clegg seems more interested in sharing episode after endless episode of becoming blotto on his drug of choice, moments that after a while become fast page turners because he has just taken us there countless times before. Yes, his 'flashbacks' to his youth as an abused child because of a genitourinary/psychological problem voiding and its sequelae and his coping with the family introduction to his sexual proclivity are dotted here and there. His relationships to both his life partner Noah and to his semi-sequestered encounters of a physical nature are no match for his emphasis on his dependence on his contacts and suppliers and his wooing cabdrivers et al to 'hang out' and share getting high.

    Clegg is a literary agent in New York and as such must read a lot of novels and other memoir-based books. One thing sets him apart: he writes in brief paragraphs separated on the page by considerable space, and that may be a visual means of helping the reader to understand the staccato outbursts of thought and words that come from an addict's mouth and mind. But in the end, this is yet another addict memoir that adds little to the shelves of similar books. The pity is that it would seem Clegg had an advantage in knowing how to deliver this information in a better way. Most people come to this book wanting to like the story, wanting to empathize with Bill Clegg and his journey through purgatory, but he simply loses us in the fall.

    Grady Harp

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Portrait?

    I am not sure who this book is written for. Drug addicts might get some vicarious kicks from his stories, but for me I just saw a pathetic individual who hurt everyone around him. Why he would want to tell the world of this I don't know.If he has not yet relapsed, then why not just get on with his life and keep this sad story to himself?

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2014

    I really liked this book, the jumping back and forth made it goo

    I really liked this book, the jumping back and forth made it good to and im not into stories that do this but I couldn't put it down!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2012

    For T

    Cant wait for the follow up

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    Shallow and repetitive

    A blow by blow account of how many drugs he smoked on any particular night. Ignored any insight into his problem except that he had trouble peeing as a child. Completely elimanated and discussion of his recovery process or what helped him conquer his problem. I found the book to be very shallow and repetitive and was very disappointed.

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  • Posted June 3, 2010

    A complete waste of time

    I found this book to be a complete waste of my time. I should have taken my friends advice when he told me it wasn't worth the read. I was carried away by the attention the book got in a certain newspaper that generally does a good job of separating the good from the ugly. They failed this time. This book is not for me. But I'm sure there might be people out there who like it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 12, 2010

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    Posted August 24, 2011

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    Posted November 9, 2010

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    Posted August 31, 2010

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