My Friend Leonard, by James Frey

A fixer who served up steak and Modigliani
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Composed in the same machine-gun rhythm, the book begins with Frey finishing a stint in jail - for crimes committed before rehab - and then racing to Chicago to find that his lover has committed suicide. Suddenly, he's alone and dealing with the wildest grief. It's the first big test of his attempt to stay sober.

Enter Leonard, Frey's mysteriously wealthy bet-placing chum from Las Vegas, who watched over him in rehab. After loaning Frey $30,000, Leonard tracks him down and breaks into his apartment. Leonard gives Frey a pep talk, a wad of cash and a steak dinner - and a job unlike any job Frey has ever had.

Given that these events took place roughly a decade earlier, a reader is right to wonder how Frey could recall dialogue so exactly. This is not a document, however, but a rendering, just as Van Gogh's self-portrait distorts his face to capture emotions .

Frey's faithfulness to these feelings, no matter how embarrassing and childish, makes My Friend Leonard a deeply affecting book. A tiring one, too: read it and you will appreciate the way Frey weathered a full-frontal assault from emotions he didn't know existed. That, in the end, is what drugs do. They don't soothe feelings; they simply cover them with a quilt of numbness. In My Friend Leonard, Frey describes adjusting to life without that protective blanket. The effect is vivid, splashy and mesmerising.