Oliver Miller wrote a book. The book is called Drinking and Driving. And with abrasive frankness, he delivers a story that is both convoluted and very, very simple.
In his pursuit of an unattainable freedom that he sees in driving fast and Amtrak trains that go all the way to Montreal, Oliver finds himself “drunk driving…And I don’t mean getting drunk, then driving. I mean driving while drunk.” To the modern audience, drunk driving is unforgivable, a Great Evil; it has never been easier to hate a drunk driver. But you can’t help it, you find Oliver alarmingly unhateable. Like a child, he is more amused than anything at driving drunk and his attitude harkens back to a juvenile sense of invincibility. His nonchalance, rather than demonizing, is charming. Which calls into question your own moral uprightness. The relationship between Oliver’s narrator and his reader is an unusually accurate depiction of how addiction perverts one’s sense of right and wrong, of self-preservation, and of happiness.
The book follows the narrator in his gradual disintegration; he finds himself under the decidedly shitty circumstance of throwing up in the parking lot of an anonymous shopping mall in Maryland. Far from anything and anyone, he is far from himself as well. You recognize his so-to-speak ‘freedom’ as one that stems from having very little to lose. You are allowed glimpses of his vulnerability as his ironic nonchalance starts to crack and, when you see a flashback of Oliver smashing a chair against the wall of his mother’s house, you feel dirty. You feel like a voyeur intruding on something intimately hideous and Oliver pulls you back just in time to his drunk, fearless self so you can run, with him, away from that ugliness.
And then the dog, the dog. The dog and the cop. The dog and the cop and the haphazard phone call to his grandmother reveal a tenderness in Oliver that again toes the line between endearing and disgusting. As Caleb the dog leaves Oliver, and his big dreams of sleeping on the beach in Florida (just a man and his dog) and as Oliver sits covered in shattered glass with the officer standing beside his once-was window, he is suddenly helpless. You are seeing a man who has been stripped of his dignity by his addiction.
So then, rehab. His documentation of his time in a rehabilitation clinic is more haunting than is healing. This institution that society counts on to take care of the drunks and the addicts and the crazy people is shockingly inadequate and you are left wondering “if not this, then what?”
True to postmodern form, Oliver’s unusually long Author’s Note is self-aware and self-reflective. It feels like discarding a shoddy façade as the author abandons his story-telling for a more frank, more personal approach to communicating with his audience. The tone is recognizably him: anxious and a little bit lost. Your relationship to the author is solidified and you want so badly to know him and to call the number he provides. It’s disconnected.
The tricky thing about addiction is that it takes a long time for the addict to realize his own addiction. A lot of people say the realization and admittance thereof is the first step to recovery. But the truth is, just because you’ve taken the first step doesn’t mean you have to take the next. In fact, you can run backwards at great leaps and bounds, even in the face of an inspiring phone call from a black man with Morgan Freeman’s voice. You can run backwards at great leaps and bounds, into the comfortable arms of your addiction.
Oliver’s story is convoluted because he is confused. He is confused because he is addicted to alcohol and he is confused about how he, intelligent, clever Oliver, could have fallen to an addiction that makes him pathetic. Oliver’s story is simple because it appeals to a basic human dependence. It appeals to something that is inherently a part of us all, the helpless part that we hate to have and so we try to outrun, by our own equivalents of drinking and driving.