There was a time in the late '80s when Jerry Stahl earned $6,500 a week as a writer for hit TV shows such as ALF, Moonlighting and thirtysomething, churning out glib dialogue, yanking on heartstrings and ending each episode neatly. Meanwhile, his own life had become a very unfunny plunge into drug abuse, with his success feeding his self-loathing, which in turn pushed him deeper into drugs. Stahl's nadir came the day his daughter was born: As his wife screamed on the delivery table he went into the bathroom 20 feet away and injected himself with a "bomb-size hit of Mexican heroin."
Stahl blames Hollywood for curdling his dream of being a writer and destroying his sense of self-worth. "Creativity means sounding like yourself," he writes. "TV means sounding like whoever wrote the pilot." He admits, though, that he was all too eager to snap up the megabucks that came his way. And he carried with him the baggage of an unhappy childhood: His father had committed suicide when he was a teenager.
Permanent Midnight follows the arc of many books about recovery from drug abuse—an ugly fall into oblivion followed by an agonizingly slow return to the sober world. But Stahl never indulges in the saccharine spirituality of many ex-addict authors, and readers may be disturbed by this stark account. A particularly grim moment comes when Stahl takes his baby daughter on a heroin-buying run into one of L.A.'s worst neighborhoods. Even the other junkies are appalled. A policeman stops him on the way home for running a red light, then spots the baby in the back seat and a syringe up front. He tells Stahl he's not going to take him in because "wherever you are now is worse than anywhere we can put you." Stahl agrees, but his struggle against addiction is an ongoing one. Even as the book closes, Stahl is still struggling to emerge fully from the permanent midnight of his own making. (Warner, $22.95)