Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison

This is a dark and troubled story. Stella is a bit adrift in her life. She works as a personal assistant for an inspirational writer who is more of a barracuda in her out-of-the-spotlight life. She's dating a married man. And she spends her evenings at alcohol and drug soaked parties in New York City. She's never quite decided what to make of her life, marking time until her indomitable grandmother starts to fail. Giving up her unsatisfying existence in the city to be the caretaker for her grandmother, she discovers that her mother had a sister, Tilly, about whom Stella knows nothing. After her grandmother's death, she feels honor-bound to tell Tilly face to face that her mother is dead and so she sets off to find this wayward aunt, estranged from the family for so many years. Tilly has had a hard life. She's a serious alcoholic, living in a trash-filled trailer, hoarding gin and she is reluctant to let Stella into her life. But Stella pushes her way in and Tilly and Stella create a fragile family as Stella tries to help Tilly finally get her life on track.

Stella and Tilly both narrate the story alternately, offering the reader glimpses of their broken souls. Tilly's back story, her time as a prostitute, the birth of her son Abe, her inability to break her dependence on alcohol, and the secrets and lies that drove her out of her family are all powerful and terrible stories. Stella is not quite a counterpoint to Tilly's unrelentingly bleak and doomed person. She details her own disappointments and the mind-numbing stagnation of her life. And Abe, Tilly's son, adds his own layer of sadness to the story. Really, the misery and dysfunction that infuse this novel is a bit overwhelming. Jamison has captured the despair and pain of alcoholism, the death-grip with which the addiction holds its sufferers and she has accurately portrayed the futility and hopelessness that can thread its way into the lives of the people around the alcoholic. This is not a comfortable read. It is not a happily ever after. It is tragedy on a personal scale. And it can be hard to read but equally hard from which to turn away.


  1. It sounds as if this is a really intense read. I have to be in the mood for those types of books but I think I will put this on my TBR if in that mood list!

    Thanks for reviewing it!

  2. Sounds like it could almost be a memoir. I don't think I'd like this one even though your review was very good....just me

  3. This does sound a bit heavy. But I know what you mean about not being able to turn away from it. Good review.

  4. I love that you were able to so succinctly convey the depressing and intriguing aspects of this story. It's so hard to balance them--but it sounds like this author did. Great review!

  5. I think I will be interested in this one. Let me add it to my list!

  6. Your review is spot-on. I loved Jamison's writing style, and though this book was dark and heart-breaking, it was so good.

    Diary of an Eccentric


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts