Billie Livingston on Great Literary Drunks

In AA they say that the definition of an alcoholic is an egomaniac with an insecurity complex and, from my observation, that’s an accurate description. It’s also what makes alcoholics such compelling characters to write about. Growing up in my family, it seemed you couldn’t throw a slice of cold pizza without hitting a drunk and they’ve been staggering through my stories ever since. Here, in no particular order, are a few writers who have a way with the drunken mind.

Book Cover The Antagonist

1. Lynn Coady, The Antagonist:

One might say Coady’s major alcoholic opus is Saints of Big Harbour, but all of her novels depict brilliantly the lonely rage of the sensitive boozer and The Antagonist’s narrator Rank is no exception.

Book Cover The Dwelling

2. Susie Moloney, The Dwelling:

In part three of Moloney’s ghostly trilogy, we meet Richie, the needy, hopeful, loving, self-absorbed drunk who is definitely going to quit. Tomorrow. Or the day after. A perfect portrait.

Book Cover Heave

3. Christy Anne Conlin, Heave:

It’s hard not to fall in love with the frail determination of Conlin’s newly sober Seraphina Sullivan. Graphic snapshots of Serrie’s drunken past will prevent you from ever romanticizing the self she once was.


Book Cover Anticipated Results

4. Dennis E. Bolen, Anticipated Results:

Bolen writes drunks with humor, starkness and aplomb. His story "Detox" is a particularly funny and withering tale of four often-drunk friends who decide it’s time to stage an intervention on the fifth and drunkest of their crew.

Book Cover The Romantic

5. Barbara Gowdy, The Romantic:

The story of Abel, the young man who drinks himself to death, and Louis, the woman who loves him is wrenching and funny and necessary.

Book Cover Traplines

6. Eden Robinson, Traplines:

Robinson writes with intelligence and dark humor about a lost kid who faces the choice of pain at the hands of alcohol-soaked parents or the ruthless reality of the streets.


Book Cover Nights Below Station Street

7. David Adams Richards, Nights Below Station Street:

A recovering alcoholic father who falls off the wagon... Richards is the heartbreaking master of drunks on the wrong side of the tracks.

Book Cover Petty Details

8. Camilla Gibb, The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life:

Through Gibb you’ll get a good look at how one parent’s retreat into a bottle is on par with the other’s retreat out the door.

Billie Livingston

Billie Livingston is a fiction writer and poet who lives in Vancouver, B.C. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, she grew up in Toronto and Vancouver, and has since lived in Tokyo, Hamburg, Munich and London, England. Her first employment was filling the dairy coolers in a Mac’s Milk. She went on to work varying lengths of time as a file clerk, receptionist, cocktail waitress, model, actor, chocolate sampler and booth host at a plumber’s convention.

Her first novel, Going Down Swinging was received as a brilliant debut. Billie’s second novel, Cease to Blush, which drew on a few experiences from her career as a model and actor, was a Globe & Mail Best Book. Her short story collection, Greedy Little Eyes was also a Globe & Mail Best Book and was the winner of the Danuta Gleed Award as well the CBC's inaugural Bookie Prize for short fiction. Her new book One Good Hustle has been longlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

September 10, 2012
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