REVIEW: Beautiful Boy, David Sheff

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

'What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong?’ Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. With haunting candour, David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3am phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the attempts at rehab. His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on Nic. This story is a first: a teenager's addiction from the parent's point of view – a real-time chronicle of the shocking descent into substance abuse and the gradual emergence into hope.

To put it bluntly, Beautiful Boy is as blind and as obtuse as a young boy addicted to methamphetamine. Rallying against the dangers of divorce and marijuana as a gateway drug, David Sheff time and time again fails to even start to identify his own blame in his son's sorry tale. Because, of course, the divorce is the fault of the courts and not his own inability to keep his penis in his pants (a point that he speedily jumps over in less than half a dozen offhand remarks); and marijuana is its psychoactive properties and not the fact that he was one of the main instigators behind his son's use of it. Unintentional or otherwise, the fact that he continuously overlooks his own role - instead preferring to shout endlessly into the void about what he did wrong, only to ignore the answer echoing back - means that he fails to even comprehend the true realities of the problem; centring his own pain and suffering over that of the addict, and basically enabling the addiction to prolong the cathartic release that he gets from it.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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