"Between Breaths", A Story of Addiction and Recovery, by Elizabeth Vargas - Book Review

Her fantasy: “Sipping a golden elixir from a beautiful piece of stemware while a steady amber glow settles over your world.”

Her reality: “Staring in the bathroom mirror at the miserable woman in the glass, gulping down her wine from a plastic cup.”

Elizabeth Vargas was gripped by the illusion of many alcoholics that she could figure out a way to drink like a normal person despite clear, consistent evidence to the contrary. Eventually, finally, she realized she could not manage alcohol as a part of her existence. With it, her life was completely unmanageable. Without it, maybe she had a fighting chance.

Vargas was a game changer in the news world, becoming the second female anchor (Connie Chung was the first) of a network world nightly news program. She reported on the ground from the Iraq war, covered both Amanda Knox trials in Italy, reported on the Elian Gonzalez controversy and interviewed President Bush. She married successful singer-song writer, Marc Cohn, and they had two lovely boys together.

From outside looking in, she had it all. But Vargas speaks of her sometimes paralyzing anxiety in great detail. Starting early in her life, panic attacks gripped her and continued, even during her most successful and visible days as a leading woman in the news. Initially, she found that a glass of wine or two made her high stress life just a little more tolerable. Until it wasn’t just a glass or two but large quantities that she went to great pains to try and hide from those close to her.  

Vargas writes with sophistication and grace about her drinking history but her stories are no different than those of alcoholics with less education, stature, success and wealth. It took repeated rehab stays, destroying her family, and self-induced, life threatening experiences before she could come to terms with the fact that she was not “terminally unique”: neither in her drinking habits nor in her internal demons.

While she’s sometimes hard to relate to because of her success and notoriety, when she opens up about her inability to control her drinking and the roads it led her down, she’s just another drunk telling a story.

Her beauty, class and grace in looks and storytelling stand as a stark reminder that alcoholism is indiscriminate in its victims and that you don’t ever actually know what it is going on in someone’s life unless they tell you. Vargas didn’t have to tell this story, but she did so in order to share her experience, strength and hope (an AA mantra) with others.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Elizabeth's rating: 3.5 stars

A Thrilling Character Study in "Before the Fall", by Noah Hawley - Book Review

Now THIS was the thriller that I searched for all summer and finally found in the fall.

Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall runs the gamut. He masterfully writes a solid mystery with in-depth character development and a fine-tuned examination into human weakness and capacity for survival. 

No spoiler alert: The plot all revolves around the crash of a private jet into the Atlantic Ocean, which happens in the first few pages. Shockingly, two survivors surface in the immediate aftermath. Their story alone might have been the sole focus of the book but, fifty pages in, that part of the story is mostly forgotten which just demonstrates the strength of the remainder of the book.  

Before the Fall
By Noah Hawley

Hawley uses the flashback technique with precision. He develops the character of each passenger on the plane through specifically designated chapters giving glimpses into their lives ‘before the fall’.

He also offers keen insight into the minds and lives of the elite wealthy. Not the kind of people who have two Mercedes and a beach house. The kind that own islands and skyscrapers. He exposes how that type of wealth can be shackling, albeit with gold, and can lead to incredibly flawed decision making.

Mental illness and obsession also play a role in the story. Specifically, how the harmful actions of someone with an unsound mind seem so insane to the outside world, yet completely justifiable in the mind of the one with the illness.

The thread tying everything together is finding the answer to one question: why did that plane fall out of the sky? Mechanical malfunction? Pilot error? Espionage? Terrorism? Revenge? Delving into the psyches of all the main players makes each of these a possibility but, obviously, in the end, there is only one answer. And it is shocking both in its unexpectedness and its simplicity.

This was my first read of Hawley’s but it will definitely not be my last.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Elizabeth's rating: 4 ½ stars

"Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget", by Sarah Hepola - Book Review

Sarah Hepola shares her harrowing escapades as a blackout drinker in this unforgettable memoir. She yanks you into her checkered drinking history from the get go. The opening scene has her in Paris on a magazine assignment, out drinking with a friend. She writes about returning to the hotel, walking through the lobby and how, then, the lights of her memory go out.

Until she wakes up the next morning in the middle of having sex with a complete stranger.

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