Even as a child, Caroline Knapp liked the cocktail hour. The daughter of a stern, distant psychoanalyst and his self-contained painter-wife, she looked forward each evening to her father's first martini, when his reserve would dissolve "as though all the molecules in the room had risen up," she writes, and "rearrange themselves, settling down into a more comfortable pattern."
With a transformation like that, who wouldn't hit the bottle? But in this compelling memoir, Knapp, 37, a columnist for The Boston Phoenix, avoids assigning blame for her own anguished 20-year duet with alcoholism. Instead, she describes with heartbreaking honesty the disease's insidious stages: the early infatuation, when liquor served as a "liquid bridge" to intimacy; the downward spiral ("You have to see all those bottles...and that can be a disconcerting image"); and the final debacle, when her life was a shambles and her taste for booze had become "the single most important relationship in my life."
In A.A. parlance a "high-functioning" alcoholic, Knapp never woke up in a gutter, so she denied the magnitude of her problem for years. Sober since 1994, when she went into rehab, she does not deny the pull her former passion still has on her. "The attraction doesn't die," she writes, "when you say goodbye to the drink." Like all good tales of unrequited love, Drinking is addictive. (Dial, $22.95)