By Sarah Hepola
Grand Central. 240 pp. $26
Sarah Hepola’s memoir, Blackout , would make for a thought-provoking book club choice. Hepola is an enchanting storyteller who writes in a chummy voice. She’s that smart, witty friend you want to have dinner with. But leave the bottle of wine at home: “Blackout” is a cautionary tale about drinking. Hepola had her first taste of alcohol at age 7, when she started sneaking sips of Pearl Light beer from her parents’ refrigerator in Dallas. Through high school, college and beyond, she searched for solace and confidence in booze.
“When I was a child trapped in loneliness, it gave me escape,” she writes. “When I was a teenager crippled by self-consciousness, it gave me power. When I was a young woman unsure of her worth, it gave me courage.” “When I triumphed, it celebrated with me. When I cried, it comforted me. And even in the end, when I was tortured by all that it had done to me, it gave me oblivion.” In her case, the oblivion was literal: When drinking to excess, she suffered from blackouts, leaving her with scant memories of herself at her most debauched. She’d reemerge in a netherworld: in the arms of a man she hadn’t remembered meeting or, once, in a dog bed in someone else’s house.
Now 40 and a Salon editor, she is eloquent in her honesty as she traces her wild days from the perspective of newfound sobriety. Alcohol was “not a cure for pain,” she now sees, “it was merely a postponement.” Like Caroline Knapp’s powerful 1996 memoir “Drinking: A Love Story,” “Blackout” is not preachy or predictable: It’s an insightful, subtly inspiring reflection by a woman who came undone and learned the very hard way how to put herself back together.