Until I read Sarah Hepola’s frank and oddly engaging memoir, “Blackout,” I assumed that drinking until blacking out meant drinking so much you toppled over, unconscious. But the truth is much scarier than that: It is drinking to the point of not remembering — you keep going, singing karaoke until you get kicked off a stage, mooning everyone on the freeway, picking random fights, tumbling down a marble staircase, having sex with strangers (if you are Hepola, that is), but the next day you remember none of it. Blackouts destroy your short-term memory, so one minute you’re glugging your drink on a bar stool, and the next minute you’re waking up in a stranger’s dog bed (really!) with no recollection of the hours in between.
Hepola, an editor at Salon, writes about how deeply attracted she has always been to alcohol. From the first sip, it was her drug of choice. “I was 7 when I started sneaking sips of Pearl Light from half-empty cans left in the refrigerator,” she says. “I would take two long pulls … and I would spin around the living room, giggling.”
Her drunken adventures are harrowing (and sometimes funny), and the hold alcohol had over her life is terrible and strong. Still, what could have been just a string of flippant, obnoxious drunken war stories followed by redemption (she does get dry, eventually) is made riveting by one thing: her writerly voice. Tough and street-smart (and a little vulnerable), honest (as far as I can tell), she’s sassy and funny, mouthy and flip, hard on herself and without a shred of self-pity. Apparently, even while drunk she was good: good enough to write for print, to be courted by the New York Times, to be retained by Salon during huge layoffs. Sobriety, as far as I can tell, has not shushed her one bit.
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks