“This wasn’t the Paris of Jake Barnes and Robert Cohn from The Sun Also Rises. But it was bright and gay and full of painters and music and beautiful women and I wanted it.”
Hamill comes across as likeable and relatable, down to earth and insightful. Readers will follow him through his self-examination process, where he longs to be a cartoonist, though realizes, (because he owns the needed self-awareness), that he does not have the talent to ever be great at it. Mediocrity is just not satisfying for him, and so he directs his energy towards writing, an area where his talent is obvious. Yet with the myriad of bad prose and poetry being published today, one has to wonder why these bad writers don’t question their own lacking talents the way Hamill could.
When Hamill takes up an interest in books, he claims:
“To be sure, the idea of the Library alarmed me. Those thousands of books seemed to look down upon me with a wintry disdain. They were adult; they knew what I did not know; they were, in a collective way, the epitome of the unknowable, full of mystery and challenge and the most scary thing of all, doubt.”
His insight is evident when he refers to the books as “adult,” in contrast to himself, who is only a boy, and how the books “look down” upon him from their shelves both because he is young and they, as objects, know more than he. Hamill has the necessary mindful child’s eye, which questions what it is like to have an object be smarter than a blood and bone human being.
Hamill no doubt comes across as a “man’s man,” and my only criticism is that I wish the last third of the book (covering his marriage and adult years) could have been longer than it was, for it’s not just a book about drinking, but a book about a life, and a man amid his ambitions, his future and his past. A Drinking Life is a slice of Americana at its best.