We all know the story. Someone finds release in alcohol. Gradually it acquires the attributes of confidante, comfort blanket and lover. The years mount up until the climacteric strikes and the addict is forced to confront their addiction. They join AA. Then they write about the whole experience in a book you are almost not allowed to argue with. Cleaning Up subverts this cliché. Perhaps the best reason for reading this stylistically erratic, politically naïve, and sometimes rather bitchy memoir of survival is that you are allowed – indeed encouraged – to argue with its curmudgeonly but likeable author.
As her therapist remarked, hers was "an unusual recovery pattern". She begins with childhood stuff, and it is predictably gruesome. It is fraught with few obvious traumas but the household is sodden with a steady "drizzle" of deprecation and malice.
Early adulthood squelches into a marsh of booze, cocaine, heroin, sex, all grinned over by a world which encourages women to be emancipated and then scolds them for having fun. The author conveys the joylessness of a life committed to the next fix. After three suicide attempts she decides to clean up – without AA.
The author's forays into "state-of-the-nation" politics are only semi-successful. It's enterprising of her to examine women's alcoholism as something discrete, but I'm not convinced that addiction can be divided on gender lines. Also, while we know that addicts are easy prey for cruel people, and Glyde makes much of friends who stuck to her and then flaked off, addicts in turn have a way of preying on others and rather less is made of this. Glyde's ferocity towards her parents almost makes the reader feel protective of them.
There remains, nonetheless, something heroic about someone who rages on her own terms, crumbles and cracks on her own terms, and then builds herself up with bricks she's baked herself.Reuse content