Saturday, December 15, 2007


If you have illusions about the role of alcohol in creativity, read "Day of the Dead" by D.T. Max on p. 76 of the Dec. 17th issue of the New Yorker. It's a thumbnail bio of Malcom Lowry, author of "Under the Volcano" (1947), hailed as one of the top twelve English novels of all time; he was considered the heir of James Joyce. He died ten years afterward, after passing out from massive quantities of alcohol and barbiturates. He was 47.

The chronicle of his marriage and collaboration with Margerie Bonner is a tortuous, gruesome story of love, hate, help, hurt, rescue and revenge. Bonner, who edited and rewrote Lowry's texts daily, almost certainly contributed the discipline and warmth that raised "Under the Volcano" above the rambling, two-dimensional symbolism that was Lowry's best unassisted effort. He was consumed with rage at everything and everyone; his violent tirades drove all their friends away.

She tried for years to get him to cut down or stop his drinking, but ended up matching him bottle for bottle, and when he finally found a doctor who got him to take a break (using aversion therapy), she refused to stop, and dragged him down again.

Much of the article deals with the theory that she murdered him, for which many women acquaintances and critics applauded her. It's a thin case. British local authorities, who conducted the inquest, pinpointed asphyxiation by aspiration of vomit as the cause of death. That's not murder. But it hardly matters. Lowry was bent on death by alcohol sooner or later. During one of his few lucid moments, he described his own life as an "alcoholocaust."

If a movie is ever made of this marriage, it should be on a double bill with "Pollock," and made required viewing for young artists considering careers in alcoholism and addiction: don't go there.


ShawnB said...

Another relevant read for those who falsely associate alcohol and/or drug use as a means to a creative end, should read "About Writing" by Steven King, a short autobiography/treatise in which he describes his downward spiral into alcoholism and cocaine addiction and how, once clean and sober, he acquired the mental tools with which to create, sans addiction.

Martin Nicolaus said...

Thanks shawnb for that comment. Perhaps you would write a review of the book for the BookTalk section of