Verdict: BACK FROM THE ABYSS is a dramatic and powerful portrait of a man battling alcoholism and his own self-destructive nature.
Born in 1945, Kieran Doherty was adopted by Patrick and Mary Doherty, his biological mother having died shortly after childbirth. Doherty’s life was not easy. The family didn’t have much money and both his father and mother working hard to make a living. But despite hard times, Doherty’s parents revealed a passion for good manners (“to talk softly in public, and to make sure our underwear was clean. . .”). Patrick enjoyed reading, and was a patient teacher in sharing his skills like how to use a paintbrush, or plane down a sticky window; Mary lip-synched to Pavrotti singing Nessun Dorma and encouraged Doherty’s interest in books and writing. But in the wealth of such childhood memories, Doherty also had painful experiences, one of which caused such embarrassment about his writing and drawing that he never wanted to feel that way again – at any cost. Doherty writes: The fear of this feeling fueled my drinking in bars from Tokyo to Tijuana, on dance floors, in newspaper offices, in bedrooms and marriages.”’
Doherty’s childhood was filled with other enlightening experiences, such as stealing, first for the thrill of it and later because it became a habit. He also got a taste for alcohol and whetted his appetite for the perfect woman after the party celebrating him receiving Holy Communion – perfect moments that Doherty would try to find “with women named and nameless and drink.” Doherty acknowledges however, that it was “always drink, that tamed me, unmanned me, beat me into the dirt, and eventually made me what I became, both good and bad.”
Doherty’s journey that started in late childhood and continued into adulthood is documented with a pragmatic starkness. His further descent into the abyss of alcoholism, as he continued stealing, “whoring” and drinking reveals not only Doherty’s inability to win the battle, but at times, his resignation and belief that perhaps it was better to be drunk than deal with life. After an AA meeting, he decides that “if my choice is staying drunk or going to silly meetings like this . . . I’m just gonna stay drunk.” But Doherty also captures the difficulty of his battle by revealing the insidious nature of alcohol, its status in society and its significance. Doherty’s reaction, for example, when his wife of the time tells him that if he touches her she would throw up is relieved: “I was still human enough to feel shame. It gave me a temporary lift. And so I went back to the living room and congratulated myself with a drink.”
Doherty’s writing is sleek and tight, capturing the essence of the people around him, the depth of his self-destructive alcoholic but also the moments of brightness, naïveté and enlightenment, with candor, humor and humility: “Patti was 18, going on 19. I had no money. I was once again an airman basic, a no-striper. I had no real future. We had no business getting married except that we were in love. We hoped that would be enough.”
Doherty’s story highlights the paradox of a man who has a zest for love and for living, yet, as he himself realizes, “would do almost anything to ruin a good thing when I had one.” Doherty’s journey into the darkness of his alcoholism, that makes him steal, lie, deceive and leave a loving wife without any explanation and look forward to going to prison, is stark and powerful. Doherty’s continued battles and short triumphs as he plods along through life grabbing and releasing the thread of hope until the very end is inspiring and touching, as he makes a final and successful effort, challenged by something even greater than alcoholism – death.
BACK FROM THE ABYSS is a dramatic and powerful portrait of a man battling alcoholism and his own self-destructive nature.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader.