three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
By: 
Dave Itzkoff
user_rating: 
0

A Memoir

A-Cocaines SonA culture reporter for the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff is the author of Lads: A Memoir of Manhood (2004), which details his misadventures in the magazine trade. Cocaine's Son is based on a piece he published in New York magazine, "Cocaine's Kid."

The Topic: Fifteen-year-old Dave Itzkoff answers a frantic phone call from his father, high on cocaine and lost in Manhattan, who begs the boy to give him a lift home in the family car. Forced for several years to stomach his narcissistic father's erratic, drug-fueled behavior, the boy retaliates by answering spitefully, "I'm not coming to pick you up. You figure out how to get home." In this candid coming-of-age story, Itzkoff revisits the rough terrain of his childhood--his father's addiction and eventual, if belated, rehabilitation and his own drug use as a student at Princeton--hewing a trail from confusion and pain to forgiveness, self-discovery, and maybe even a second chance to get to know this man with whom he has so much in common.
Villard. 221 pages. $24. ISBN: 9781400065721

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Cocaine's Son is an uncomfortable, intermittently amusing memoir that grew out of a 2005 article Itzkoff wrote for New York magazine about his father's drug-ravaged past. ... As exasperating as [his father] can be, even when he's been sober for some time, Cocaine's Son is ultimately a father-son love story." James Sullivan

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mostly sharp and spare, the book just occasionally meanders and loses pace. Sometimes you start to want a little more on Itzkoff himself. ... There's some lovely writing here, though, especially when the prose takes flight in likably offbeat, even cinematic, sweeps." Julie Myerson

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Any drama or conflict is almost entirely between father and Itzkoff, who's university-educated, a writer for the New York Times, about to be married to a wonderful woman, a person who would appear to have every reason to be confident in his role as a successful American male. But Itzkoff is a veteran of a Terrible Childhood, at least as he remembers it. ... This memoir, though fascinating, seems to be less about cocaine than about who ‘owns' the family--who is the hero and who is the villain, and how a family can pull together to assimilate its troublesome ethnic history." Carolyn See

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"There is a difficulty in writing a memoir in which the essential character is defined by absence, and Cocaine's Son occasionally lacks a strong center. There is some formidable writing here, and many passages are movingly honest, but too much time is spent on Itzkoff's attempts, as an adult, to understand his father's failures and not enough on his actual experiences with the man." Keith Staskiewicz

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Lacking the harrowing drama of his Times colleague David Carr's addiction memoir Night of the Gun or the literary flair of, say, Mary Karr's Lit, Mr. Itzkoff strives to make a virtue of the ordinariness of his family's story of addiction, telling it as soberly as possible. However, his tone becomes callous or dismissive, and when it does, his quest for universality gives way to solipsism." Adam Langer

Critical Summary

Itzkoff's distress and embarrassment at his father's behavior are tangible in this unflinching portrait of a troubled childhood. While the critics generally enjoyed this new addition to the genre, a few flaws hampered that enjoyment. Some thought that Itzkoff's story, with its rosy, upper-middle-class veneer, lacks the edge of similar memoirs, while others raised objections to Itzkoff's singular focus on his father, whose larger-than-life personality eclipses the other characters--including Itzkoff himself. He spends a considerable amount of time analyzing his father's actions in an attempt to understand them, and these frequent ruminations, according to Entertainment Weekly, can be intrusive and redundant. When a fellow journalist publishes a book, the critics often take it easy on him or her. That the reviews were not glowing means there's less here than meets the eye.