My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jason Carney’s Starve the Vulture A Memoir follows the author’s descent into addiction and follows it through the car wreck that set him on the road to recovery. The story, told in two chronological time streams, explores the intersection of his past with his life in the present.
As a recovering addict, I generally steer clear of the genre because the stories are too often similar (which I have to admit is more than a little hypocritical as much of my personal writing takes place in that world). There are beats that every addict book hits: an obtuse understanding of the descent, a betrayal of the person closest to you, a final crash into rock bottom, and a moment of clarity that resonates into a glimmer of hope for the future. Carney’s narrative conforms to type.
There’s much to like about the writing. A slam poet, Carney’s narrative reads more like painting, with scenes strung together in a loose chronological structure. There are no cliff hangers pushing the reader through the book. Instead, each chapter reads like a small, self-contained story that taken together tell in incomplete, but whole, story. Intermittently, poems break up the sections.
The stories that resonated most with me were from his time in the adult video store, which opened the narrative to deep contemplations about his family, his addiction, and his attempt to control the chaotic world in which he lived. Carney was at his best when he took us the moments when reality crashed into the world into which he’d retreated.
The biggest issue with the narrative is the dual time stream, which vacillates between the car wreck and his descent into addiction. Illustrating addiction is a near impossible task because it defied any easy explanation. While trying to paint still moments, Carney’s narrative creates a causative connection between the his addiction and the wreck. It took a meaning created after the fact, and tried to connect that to the past.
Still, that’s a narrative choice that Carney made. Some may find it compelling. Indeed, I may have had it been done better. The time jumps between the descent into addiction and the car wreck were a bit jarring and its execution too often drew me out of the story. I found myself stopping to figure out where I was in the story as a function of confusion and narrative arc.
That said, there’s enough of interesting within the vignettes to keep reads interested in the story even if they get lost in the chronology.