Book Review: Beautiful Boy by David Sheff.
Beautiful Boy (2008) searches for a beginning, an ending, and in the middle, a cause.
In chronicling his son Nic's decent into methamphetamine (and other) addictions, David Sheff admits in the introduction he "resisted the temptation to foreshadow because it would be disingenuous--and a disservice to anyone going through this--to suggest that one can anticipate how things will unfold." (pp. 13-14.) Indeed, the vignette Sheff uses at the book's outset was just another "head fake" where he thought his son had kicked his self-destructive habits, only to be crushed again.
Sheff similarly concedes that he wanted to end his book with a heart-rending letter Nic wrote to his much younger brother apologizing for stealing his sibling's $8 for drugs. "I had so much wanted to end my book with Nic's letter to Jasper. It served too perfectly as a neat bow on the package, a happy ending. I wanted it to be the happy ending of our family's story about meth....But no. It is so easy to forget that addiction is not curable." (p. 255.) Subsequent relapses and rehabs prevented this emotional letter from concluding the story.
Notably this book is told through the father's perspective. Nic Sheff has also published one through his own. Although I haven't read the son's, I suspect the father's is more painful. David Sheff records throughout these pages his search in vain for the cause of his son's addictions. He blames his own divorce and drug use primarily. Sample: "I know that the divorce and custody arrangements were the most difficult aspects of his childhood. Children of divorce use drugs and alcohol before the age of fourteen more often than the children of intact families. Girls whose parents have divorced have earlier sexual experiences, and kids of both sexes suffer a higher rate of depression." (p. 177.)
Sheff never seems to come to any satisfactory conclusion or explanation for how his son's life took such a tragic turn. He would bump up against a plausible cause and then dispense with by referencing people who had the same background and didn't turn to meth or people with different backgrounds who did--and then return to the self-blaming theme. In the process, Sheff tortured himself as much or more as his son did. Indeed, Sheff's head "literally exploded" (p. 308) during the ordeal. "I cannot forget when I couldn't remember his number, and I am struck anew that [my] brain hemorrhage--even that--could not remove the worry about him." (p. 248.)
As a professional writer before this book, Sheff skillfully captures the raw emotion of a father watching his beloved son destroy himself, and not knowing what to do. If you can read this book without being emotionally affected, whether you are a parent or not, you may have misplaced your heart or are on meth yourself.