What is so rewarding about reading A Drinking Life is that the book does not drown the reader with the standard cliché, but instead focuses on the cultural aspect of why men, and especially Irish men, turn to drink. He argues that in order to examine this, he needed to first examine his childhood, and while the title does reveal the focus of the book, it’s not the core of the book, which never deviates from Hamill the man. Nowhere in A Drinking Life does Hamill beg the readers for sympathy—his poor childhood and the events that resulted because of it simply just are. Yet it is clear that despite these struggles, Hamill was still able to enjoy his childhood for what it was. He knows how to phrase things memorably, thus allowing the moment to be what it is, rather than trying to force sentiment upon the reader. For example, Hamill does an outstanding job of conveying the way young boys speak to one another. When approaching a boy that he’d previously gotten into a fight with, the scene goes:
"I didn’t want the fight Frankie, I said. You started it.
"Fuck it, he said sadly, with a little wave of his hand.
"Let’s forget about it, I said.
"He looked at me as if knowing that he would never forget about it and neither would I.
"Come on, I said. We’ll go read comics.
"He stared at me for a long moment and then got up, and we walked off to look at stories of heroes and perils in a simpler world."
The exchange is straight and to the point, but Hamill conveys not only the underlining emotion that exists between these two boys, but when arranged together, the scene offers a nice poetic moment which is noted in the last line. Although the chapters are short and share some structure commonalities with Evan S. Connell’s Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge, overall, Hamill is not as poetic as Connell. But this isn’t a criticism, merely an acknowledgement of what Hamill is as a writer. Rather, he seems to resemble the prose version of Robert Altman’s films, when Altman is at his best.
Hamill is also able to structure his sentences in harmony with his moments of youthful excitement and desire, and he does so in an artful way: