‘The Alcoholic’ by Jonathan Ames

The Alcoholic is a tale of sexual confusion, romantic obsession and addiction counterpointed by a deep and loving familial bond.

Jonathan Ames continues his tradition of naming his fictional protagonists after himself, giving them his looks and borrowing heavily from his own life, which sets up an odd relationship with the reader. We know that some of what lies in the pages is about Jonathan Ames the man, but as fact and fiction intertwine, we’re playing a guessing game, never sure what is profoundly personal and revealing and what is made up for dramatic effect.

I found the scenes from his awkward teen years very touching. The Jonathan A. of this story has a seminal relationship with Sal, his childhood best friend/adolescent drinking buddy/one-time lover, who abandons their relationship without explanation, leaving Jonathan confused, lonely and obsessed for life. After a couple of short-lived relationships, the shocking accidental death of his parents, and becoming a published writer, he meets a girl who loves then leaves him, also without much explanation, but then keeps him dangling. Armed with two obsessions (one for a man and one for a woman), a tragedy plus a romantic notion of the “hard-drinking writer,” his adolescent weekend drinking pattern expands into an all out alcohol and drug-fuelled bender-cum-lifestyle. The counterpoint to all this degradation, confusion, and obsession is the touchstone of a profoundly loving and supportive relationship with his wise aunt Sadie (taken from real life) and an insightful rehab therapist who helps Jonathan A understand and confront his past.

The Alcoholic perfectly captures the deep bonding, inarticulate confusion and pain of adolescence. It captures moments of adult shame, heartbreak, loss and obsession we can all relate to, even though he takes it farther than all but committed alcoholics and addicts would dare to go. Besides his two lost loves of different genders, some other queer moments include a flirtation with a gay drug dealer, a coke-binge with a “tranny queen,” and judging a transsexual beauty pageant.

Although this country has produced many novels and films that portray the downward spiral of addiction, we never seem to tire of it. Probably because of the many citizens who can relate and the drama that ensues. Personally, I am over it, but there were many touching and true moments in the story that made its reading engaging, evocative, shattering and worthwhile. The illustrations by Dean Haspiel (famous for his collaboration with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor) convey emotions, sexuality and absurdity with great skill that takes you into the heart of the story and along for the ride.
The Alcoholic
Jonathan Ames
Illustrated by Dean Haspiel
ISBN 978-1401210564
Hardcover, 136 pp.