The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia LaingWhy is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver.
All six of these writers were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often they did their drinking together - Hemingway and Fitzgerald ricocheting through the cafes of 1920s Paris; Carver and Cheever speeding to the liquor store in Iowa in the icy winter of 1973.
Olivia Laing grew up in an alcoholic family herself. One spring, wanting to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, she took a journey across America that plunged her into the heart of these overlapping lives. As she travels from Cheevers New York to Williams New Orleans, from Hemingways Key West to Carvers Port Angeles, she pieces together a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery. Beautiful, captivating and original, The Trip to Echo Spring strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.
The Trip to Echo Spring, by Olivia Laing
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Arguably the finest work by the great Italian innovator Luigi Pirandello is his absurdist satire Six Characters in Search of an Author Laing sets out to explain why writers drink, and fails — but, then again, why does anyone drink? Why does anyone do anything? In hindsight she may have been more successful in attempting to explain why writers write. That is a dense and complex question, and one worth considering, although it does not appear to concern Laing. Very quickly in The Trip to Echo Spring , with its breezy mix of biography, travel, pseudopsychology, extracts of fiction, snatches of science, personalised literary criticism and even authorial memoir, it becomes clear that Laing is an author in need of a subject.
I t's a niche idea, this one, at first glance. Why do writers drink — well, why does anyone? Why not doctors or lawyers, parents — or children? And why does Laing's book part literary criticism, part biography, part travelogue, part memoir focus on six male, American, drunk writers: Ernest Hemingway , F Scott Fitzgerald , Tennessee Williams , John Berryman , John Cheever and Raymond Carver , 20th-century greats we know a fair amount about already? Laing answers these questions early in the book. Don't they just. Moreover, the lives of these writers intersect; letters fly between them; they are friends, at some point enemies.
Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver. Rather than simply weld their stories together into a kind of collective biography, Laing weaves portraits of each man into an overland journey she made between New York and Port Angeles, Wash. The idea is to bind together cities and landscapes in which these men were immersed.
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