Reviews for Trip to Echo Spring : On Writers and Drinking

Booklist Reviews 2013 November #2
*Starred Review* British journalist and writer Laing (To the River, 2012) conducts and chronicles intrepid and divulging literary journeys, here recounting her travels across America, tracking the role alcoholism played in the lives of John Berryman, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams. She lifted "Echo Spring" from Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, because it's Brick's "nickname for the liquor cabinet," based on a brand of bourbon, and because the writers' painful experiences echo one another's and often converge. In this enfolding and exposing inquiry, Laing analyzes and intermeshes the lives of her subjects and her own as a child in a household poisoned by drink. She learns how alcohol affects the brain and discovers clues to each writer's addiction in their published and private writings as she visits their haunts in New York, New Orleans, Key West, and the Pacific Northwest. As she investigates the symbioses between alcoholism and trauma, creativity, and repressed homosexuality, she recalibrates our perception of the suffering and brilliance of these seminal writers. Intently observant, curious, and empathetic, Laing, with shimmering detail and arresting insights, presents a beautifully elucidating and moving group portrait of writers enslaved by drink and redeemed by "the capacity of literature to somehow . . . make one feel less flinchingly alone." Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 November #1
What can we learn from the sodden stories of six gifted but alcoholic writers? Much--and maybe not enough. Freelance journalist Laing, (To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface, 2011), who has a history of alcoholism in her own family, provides an enlightening look at the struggles of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman and Raymond Carver--six men (she explains why she included no women) whose careers and lives were shaken and shortened by their addiction to alcohol. She notes that she selected them, among other things, because their lives intersected in places. Laing, who lives in England, decided to visit key sites in these writers' lives and to do so, as much as possible, by train. Throughout, she comments--sometimes quite eloquently--about the scenery in and outside her rail car. Laing also evinces great familiarity with the principal texts of her writers, including their published and unpublished journals, letters and other relevant documents. She also instructs us about the effects of alcohol on the brain (including the devastating destruction of memory) and the rest of the body, as well as the social behavior of heavy drinkers, and she sketches the history and strategies of Alcoholics Anonymous and of other ways to battle the disease. Since we know the sorry fates of all these writers, there is an almost unbearable poignancy about Laing's journey to sites of meltdowns and suicides. She wanders into bars the writers had frequented, looks at their residences in New York, New Orleans, Key West, Port Angeles and elsewhere, and continually tries to imagine the men in these settings. She ends in kind of a hard place: with the axiomatic message that alcoholics need to take charge of their lives and just stop. These six guys didn't find that too easy. A provocative, evocative blend of memoir, literary history and lyrical travel writing. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 August #1

Aside from being geniuses, what do F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver have in common? They all drank big, and drinking appears as a significant motif in their work. Former deputy books editor of the Observer, Laing grew up in a family afflicted with alcoholism and decided to sort out its burdens by studying the lives and works of these writers. Perennially astonishing authors framed by a perennially popular theme.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 November #2

London-based Laing (To the River) takes us on a trip across the United States in this unique collection of literary biographies, stopping and observing locations relevant to the lives of the authors she is investigating. Ambitiously immersed in the careers of six revered and often idolized writers, including novelist John Cheever (The Stories of John Cheever) and short story writer Raymond Carver (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love), Laing uses the authors' alcohol addiction as the linchpin that unifies their strange connectedness to one another. Laing, who grew up in an alcoholic family herself, mixes into her study an intimate and knowledgeable understanding of the chemistry of alcohol, its impact on one's thinking, and the mystique of its side effects. The culmination is a brightened awareness not only of the lives of the writers discussed but of their works, relationships, and worldviews. VERDICT A funny, tragic, and insightful journey for anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender Is the Night), Ernest Hemingway (In Our Time), Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie), or John Berryman (The Dream Songs); prepare to be smitten with this fresh offering. Those unfamiliar with these writers will want to read their works. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/13.]--Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 September #5

The tortured relationship between literary lions and their liquor illuminates the obscure terrain of psychology and art in this searching biographical meditation. Critic and travel writer Laing (To the River) explores the writing and drinking careers of six heavy-hitting American masters--Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver--while visiting their haunts, from Key West to Puget Sound. Incorporating insights from neuroscience, rehab doctrine, and her family's alcoholic history, Laing reviews the excuses each writer offered for his alcoholism--anxiety, shyness, childhood trauma, hidden homosexuality, creative lubrication, the world's cruelty--and totals the costs: suicide, wrecked homes, lurid benders, and diminished output. (Williams's addled late plays may exhibit alcohol-induced "aphasia," says Laing.) The book's heart is Laing's astute analysis of the pervasive presence and meaning of drink in the writers' texts, and its reflection of the writers' struggles to shape--and escape--reality. Laing explores this rich topic through an unusual mix of biographical research, astute literary interpretation, and wonderfully atmospheric travelogue; she forthrightly calls out her subjects on their alcoholic evasions and self-deceptions while maintaining a clear-eyed sympathy for their travails. The result is a fine study of a human frailty through the eyes of its most perceptive victims. Photos. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Jan.)

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