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The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson

The Lost Weekend (1944)

by Charles Jackson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This extended internal monologue of a gay alcoholic loose on the streets of Manhattan was in very modern in many ways despite its 1936 setting. Jackson gets very deep into the erratic, diseased alcoholic logic; his depictions of hangovers and lust for alcohol are moving and at times comic. The passing characters are a mix of distinct portraits (e.g., Bim, the nurse in the drunk tank at the hospital) and weak caricatures (e.g., the hostess at the narrator's customary bar). Indeed, the female characters in particular suffer in depth relative to the males. But what ultimately doomed this work was its repetition and length; it desperately needed an editor. The interminable dream sequence on his last day was both unnecessary and distracting. ( )
  Bostonseanachie | Dec 14, 2016 |
Don Birnam is thirty-three, unemployed, supported by his younger brother, and he's an alcoholic. His brother is desperate to block Don's access to liquor, but Don manages to get left behind in Manhattan instead of going for the weekend in the country his brother planned. Don's weekend is spent drinking, finding money to buy liquor, stealing, pawning and hitting people up for money to buy liquor, worrying about running out of liquor, hallucinating and passing out. Don swings between feeling sophisticated, imagining himself as a literary professor lecturing on Fitzgerald or a great Shakespearean actor, to loathing himself for his weaknesses, his treatment of friends and his sexuality.

This is deeply introspective, with little dialogue. Don lives in his head, which tortures him, but the author really lays the delirium on pretty thick. His hallucinations and delirium seem more in line with heroin use than alcohol, even if Don is throwing back enough to kill a horse in an hour. My copy is only 244 pages, but the story would have benefited from losing around 60 pages, as Don's drinking, worry and hallucinations turned into an endless cycle a hundred pages in, then, after so much suffering, the ending had too much of a "all's well that ends well" feeling. I'd expected something more. ( )
  mstrust | Jul 1, 2015 |
Wow. I can't say I've read many books centered on addiction to begin with, but I also find it hard to believe that anyone has ever written as believable an account of it as this. Don Birnam is clearly a man who is more introspective and sensitive than most, but he is also a man completely beholden to the vice of liquor. He will do absolutely anything (well, almost anything) for a drink, all the while understanding that his desire will lead to nothing more than wanton destruction. From the very beginning of the weekend and the novel, Don fully acknowledges that he knows exactly the path he will take in his quest for booze and further that he understands where this quest will ultimately lead. He knows he is hurting many more people aside from himself, but he persists with his behavior because he quite literally cannot stop. Hospital visits, near-run-ins with the law, a lack of money...all of these are minor obstacles for Don as he seeks out alcohol. Mr. Jackson has captured the mindset of the alcoholic perfectly (he unfortunately speaks from experience) and it is a paralyzing sad account indeed.

I think what struck me most was Don's understanding of self, even while drunk, while still being completely powerless to stop his own sickening behavior. There are only a few true events that occur to Don over the course of his lost weekend, but through the lens of these happenings he truly examines every nook and corner of his psyche. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the addict or for anyone who wants to observe how one singular, terrible character flaw can absolutely render destruction at every turn. ( )
  Raven9167 | Apr 13, 2013 |
Of all the novels I’ve read about alcoholics, I think Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend (1944) comes closest to giving you an idea of what it’s like to be an alcoholic. It’s probably only remembered today because of Billy Wilder’s surprisingly good movie adaptation, which garnered four Oscars, including best picture of 1945. The book is not very well written – Jackson is awkward and his literary references and dips into stream of consciousness come across as pretentious – but its realism and unflinching honesty still shock.

The semi-autobiographical story revolves around a five-day drinking binge rife with blackouts, humiliations and overwhelming desperation. The protagonist, Don Birnam, is a failed writer tortured by his repressed homosexuality and guilt towards his younger brother and his girlfriend. The book is so agonizing largely because of Birnam’s self-awareness; he realizes how horribly he’s acting and how helpless he is to stop it. There are many harrowing scenes, but possibly the most distressful one has Birnam, in terrible physical pain and desperate for another drink, hobbling through New York City looking for a place to pawn the coat he stole from his girlfriend.

Lacking any humor and suffused with anxiety and regret, The Lost Weekend is a tough read. Where the movie ends in an ambiguous note – optimistic viewers could interpret the scene as a turning point in Birnam’s drinking – the book does not offer any palliatives. Neither does the author’s life – after a long period of sobriety he relapsed and eventually committed suicide.

Judging from the book’s modernist flourishes, I think Jackson would have preferred to have written Under the Volcano, but he clearly didn’t have the chops. Which might have been a good thing, as too much art would have blunted his novel’s impact. ( )
  giovannigf | Aug 13, 2012 |
You've seen the movie, now read the book! And discover in the process that the hero is hitting the bottle, not because he has writer's block, as portrayed by Ray Milland, but because he is a closeted gay man. I guess Hollywood wasn't ready for that in 1945.
  booksaplenty1949 | Mar 8, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Jacksonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eggink, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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And can you, by no drift of circumstance,
Get from him why he puts on this confusion, 
Grading so harshly all his days of quiet
With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?
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'The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot.'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081560419X, Paperback)

This book was first published in 1944 and also made into a film. It deals with the subject of alcoholism, and is seen through the eyes of Don Birnam. He is an intelligent, cultured man with a loving family but as an alcoholic he has crazed imaginings which lead to depression.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:15 -0400)

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