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“For many years, Dad was my favorite drinking buddy,” reflects the author in the opening pages as his father, Tate, is taken to the hospital following a heart attack. Barkley, now five years sober, recalls his troubled childhood and the ways in which Tate’s influence both inspired his successful career as a lawyer and brought about the addiction that ruined it. Tate was a conman who disappeared for weeks at a time, leaving Barkley, his mother, and his sisters to starve. Childhood trauma pushed the author to drinking, which—ironically—brought him closer to Tate, an inveterate alcoholic. Barkley’s drinking stemmed in part from the fear of losing his father’s love: from an early age, the author knew he was gay. In clunky (but faithfully rendered) reminiscences, he recalls his first erotic experiences and the horrific pressure to conceal his sexuality in North Carolina and, later, in Texas, two states in which gay people faced particularly severe persecution. Although the memoir lingers on Barkley’s early childhood for too long, the narrative covers compelling emotional terrain later as the author begins to explore the devious nature of his alcoholism. After college, exhausted from pretending to be straight, he attended law school at Oregon’s Willamette University, hoping that a liberal environment would help him to live openly as a gay man and end his drinking. Yet it took him years to come out, and when he did, his addiction was entrenched: “I needed to drink to be ‘out’, and I had begun to need the steadiness of a drink to focus on my cases.” Barkley’s tendency to eschew structure and simply place one scene after the next makes for an exhausting read, but his story is fascinating as it explores poverty, sobriety, and the ways in which toxic masculinity can warp one’s sense of self.


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