Parul Sehgal of The New York Times reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
This week, "The Trip to Echo Spring," Olivia Laing's group portrait of some of America's finest writers and hardest, most determined drinkers: John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver.
Laing, a British journalist, begins her book with a simple question: "I wanted to know what made a person drink and what it did to them. More specifically, I wanted to know why writers drink, and what effect this stew of spirits has had upon the body of literature itself."
As much biography as memoir, literary criticism as travelogue, the book is structured around Laing's pilgrimages to the landscapes important to the men. Through her eyes, we see Hemingway's glittering Key West, Carver's gaunt Washington, the lonely hotel room in midtown Manhattan where Tennessee Williams choked to death. Along the way, she plumbs the intersections between addiction, creativity, machismo, mental illness, suicide and childhood trauma.
As the book unfolds, we slowly understand Laing's personal connection to the topic. We learn something of her own secrets and why her sympathy for these men runs so deep.
"The Trip to Echo Spring" was recently reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review by Laurence Osborne, who lauded Laing's artistry and "meticulous respect for the suffering that alcoholism entails combined with a stern refusal to let moralizing trump her literary instinct."
Find more reviews of new books in the New York Times Book Review at nytimes.com/books.