Everyone, it seems, has a drinking story, even teetotalers, and in this anthology of essays, 28 women tell theirs.
"Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up," edited by Leah Odze Epstein and Caren Osten Gerszberg (Seal Press, 268 pages, $16), is wide-ranging, with women musing about their own drinking, their parents' drinking and their good-for-nothing boyfriends' drinking, as well as sobriety, abstention, recovery and relapse.
They reminisce fondly about their old hard-drinking days, they bemoan alcohol and the heartbreak it causes, they explore how drinking fits in with their faith and culture. There are rollicking good times here, and there is tragedy. There are also some surprises, and some eloquent, heartfelt writing.
In "Mother of All Sins," former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani writes about what it means to be a Muslim who drinks. After spending time in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, she concludes that she is far from alone and that alcohol is the "dirty little secret" of the Muslim world.
In "The Days of Wine and Seltzer," Elissa Schappell writes about the awkwardness and melancholy of being a sociable drinker married to a man who no longer drinks. And Jacqueline Mitchard rails against the damage that alcohol has caused in her life -- her mother's early death, her father's abuse, family gatherings that devolved into fisticuffs. She begs her children, please don't drink. If you must get high, smoke pot instead.
Some pieces pour out, earnest and honest, if not always polished. Others, such as Pam Houston's "Eight Wrecked Cars and One That Got Away," are beautifully crafted but can strain credulity with the weirdly precise memories from toddlerhood.
In "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Slur Girls," Minneapolis writer Laurie Lindeen writes comically and wistfully about her years in the rock and roll band Zuzu's Petals. Heavy drinking, Lindeen writes, elevated the group from girl band to bona fide rockers. One night after a tequila-fueled gig, she staggered away after vomiting and, "Adam Ant's soundman and drum tech patted me on the back and said, 'You girls are our heroes.'"
But Lindeen is acutely aware that the hard-living life that was admired when she was young could make her, at middle age, a figure of fun or pity. "The image of the drunken pre-suicidal Anne Sexton performing her poetry with young hipster musician/fans in Cambridge, Mass., haunts me," she writes. "It's at the top of my situations-to-avoid list."
While she still likes to rock, and she still likes to drink, she has come to embrace moderation. And that might be the theme of this book after all. "Could I come to peace with my relationship with drinking?" Nomani wonders. As these thoughtful essays show, these 28 women did.
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302 Twitter: @stribbooks