Addiction, recovery, and the forces that drive them make for some of literature’s most compelling reading. Those of us who seek others’ reflections on the often horrific path toward death or redemption have a treasure trove to visit and revisit, from Baudelaire to Bukowski, Dorothy Parker to Anne Sexton. Every such work is a travelogue, and the journey, on the continuum from AAA magazine to The Divine Comedy, is only as interesting as the writer who has lived and is telling it.
Add Nadia Bruce-Rawlings’s compelling Driving In The Rain to the list of must-reads. Like her harrowingly powerful first book, Scars, it is an episodic trip through scenes from a life that moves from family dysfunction through low-bottom addiction to recovery in all its challenging complexity.
The daughter of a troubled, hard-drinking oil executive and a mother who provided a counterbalance of joy and color through the veil of her own depression, Bruce-Rawlings brings a clear-eyed rigor to each piece, from the most impressionistic poem to the most detailed rumination on a person or event. With great control of tone and a gift for the telling image, she takes us from childhood scenes in Egypt, with servants and vacations on Cyprus, to the most sordid of L.A. streets, from attending parties in Cannes and singing karaoke in Tokyo to stealing batteries and pregnancy tests in Rite-Aids to support her habit and sharing day-care motherhood with strippers. She is fearless in presenting both worlds and in sketching the twilight zone between the two, showing us that the struggles of adolescence in a dysfunctional family in the Middle East have their counterpart in the struggles of an addict, equally a foreigner in the surface world of respectability in any American city.
The writer’s task is to turn words into recognition, then identification and emotion, and Bruce-Rawlings does it superbly. And when the events are as jarring and disorienting as they sometimes are here, she also needs to reassure us as we walk through each circle of hell. It is only honesty and strength that can do that, connecting us to her as she uncovers truths about herself and about us, reminding us that at whatever stage of life, of dysfunction or recovery, we are on this thin raft together.
It is obvious she is still working through some of the scenes at hand, but she speaks as a survivor, and just as it is the journey that is the story, it is the destination that makes it bearable, and she has come out the other side, as we do in reading her.
And recovery, the rarer path, is indeed the destination. It makes the rest of her journey meaningful. To hear stories of hazy moments in the arms of Lethe from someone who is clear eyed and functioning is to see the human spirit triumphant. Turning horror to hope, as we have seen in so many tales that have held our attention through the ages, can give a sometimes sordid journey a golden destination, and it does so here.