The first time I read Kristi Coulter’s “Nothing Good Can Come From This,” I am sipping from a glass — a small glass! — of rosé. I am on vacation. It is summer. Someone offered it to me, and I am very polite. Later, I’ll e-mail a friendly professional acquaintance about “drinks!” For an exceedingly light drinker, I am startlingly like the women Coulter is talking about.
In the summer of 2016, Coulter wrote a very viral essay detailing some revelations she’d had as a newly sober person. “Everyone around me is tanked,” she wrote then, “but it also dawns on me that a lot of the women are super double tanked — that to be a modern, urbane woman means to be a serious drinker.” Since there is no way to win at being a woman in 21st-century America — even if you, like her, are white and wealthy and well-educated and well-employed and happily married — women are blunting the pain of losing with booze. Booze at meetings. Booze at yoga. So much booze.
The essay struck a nerve, and then inspired a backlash, and now, a version of that piece leads Coulter’s collection, a memoir of drinking, and then of not drinking. But while that essay is a rallying cry — sharp and bold and satisfyingly fed up, a highlight whether or not you buy her premise that women are self-soothing with wine instead of overthrowing the patriarchy (Rosé! The opiate of the female masses!), the book quickly turns inward. It is not a manifesto. Instead, it is something more intimate: the story of a relationship, between Coulter and the urge to drink.
This takes the form of a series of artfully meandering essays: about her marriage, about running (there is, for presumably autobiographical and metaphorical reasons, a lot of running), about desire, about work. Also, about alcohol, drinking it, or not drinking it. (For breathing room, there are also a couple of formal experiments — a women’s magazine-style quiz, a how-to guide, an open letter.) “In the end, the way I stopped was by stopping,” she writes. “Suddenly I understood that what I wanted was no longer important. I would just have to wait and hope that eventually I would want something else.”
Most of the pieces here end with a newfound appreciation of simplicity, and while that is a revelation, it is perhaps not a revelation every time. But if the essays are not all singularly earth-shattering, they are nonetheless deeply human. Taken together, the collection is about more than sobriety. It’s a celebration of the quotidian, a love letter to the breathtaking beauty of the mundane. The pursuit of happiness, Coulter writes, isn’t really all that dramatic most of the time, it turns out. “Sometimes, pursuit just means paying close attention to the story while it emerges in its own damn time.”
Rachel Sugar is a Brooklyn-based writer.
Nothing Good Can Come From This
By: Kristi Coulter.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 210 pages, $15.