“Blackout” is a memoir about alcoholism and getting sober. This book affected me personally more than any I’ve read this cannonball. I’m involved in the recovery world and just really needed this book when I read it. It’s a beautifully written memoir and I appreciated the story as told through the lens of coming of age as a woman in the 90s.
Sara Hepola is a writer from Texas. The book starts with her sneaking sips of Pearl Light from cans in childhood, which gradually escalates to her blacking out at a middle-school party. While drinking is always at the center of the story, the first few chapters read like a novel about a girl growing up in the late 80s and early 90s. There are a lot of themes that circle back to the escapism of drinking: the comfort of binge eating, the agony of calorie restriction, female friendships that are both utterly devoted and fiercely competitive. Hepola’s simple writing style really nails the era and the emotional content.
In the college portion of the story, Hepola starts wearing combat boots and men’s undershirts, drinks crappy beer out of cans, and is able to try on a less traditionally feminine persona through drinking. The descriptions of 90s-era feminism, the androgynous clothes, the new-feeling idea of being a pursuer rather than pursued in relationships and careers were very vivid to me. She describes alcohol as “the gasoline of all adventure”. While drinking was clearly a problem, it also brings a freedom and becomes a way to defy expectations: “I was done sucking up to men. Fluffing their egos. Folding their tightie whites. I was going to smash my bottles against the wall, and someone could clean up after me, goddammit…So, death to the girl of the nervous fidgets, behold the woman with a beer in her hand and one endless cigarette.” I related to this so hard!
The book follows Hepola’s progressing alcoholism through damaged friendships and relationships but, but there are also social triumphs and professional successes that occur during blackouts. It’s refreshingly honest about the good memories and bad. I wondered if the book would wrap up in a “last ten minutes of Behind the Music” way where they’re working on their acoustic guitar music and doing poolside yoga, but Hepola is very honest about the long, slow work of recovery. There are no white-light moments or tidy endings but lots of insights and really great writing. Highly recommend this one!