by Grant Matheson
The Golden Boy is Matheson’s memoir about his personal experience with narcotic and alcohol addiction. It starts by relating the beginnings of the illness taking shape in the early 2000s, when he was a physician practising in Charlottetown, and how his life spiralled out of control as he sank deeper and deeper into its clutches over the course of a few years. He talks about his time in rehab and the constant struggle he lives with even after years of sobriety.
I didn’t come into this expecting phenomenal writing. When picking up Matheson’s memoir, I had hoped for something rough around the edges, personal and, perhaps if I was lucky enough, even a bit enlightening. And we approached something along those lines eventually, but it took time. The writing in The Golden Boy starts out wooden. I think this has to do, in part, with the fog of addiction Matheson describes as clouding his experiences at the time, and also, in part, with his need to disassociate from his former self in order to properly heal. So the first chunk of the book––describing active, worsening addiction and his life systematically falling to pieces––sounds like he’s talking about what happened to an acquaintance, drily giving what he heard to be facts without understanding the specifics. And, of course, a lack of writing experience likely lends itself to part of the explanation for my dissatisfaction in this vein. For, the act of telling readers about something isn’t enough to elicit emotion from them: You need to convincingly take them there and make them believe what happened, make them see how people truly reacted to what you’re describing. It’s possible that the author didn’t understand this, and this may be partially true, but I’d argue that a more satisfactory explanation is that he didn’t know how to effectively achieve this.
Once we follow Matheson into treatment, things improve substantially. This presumably has something to do with the aforementioned fog lifting, so he actually recalls more things from this period. I’d suggest this had something to do, as well, with him keeping an active journal. This gave him access to specific details to add into the telling; as such, he was better able to bring his experience across. With this comes a better sense of the author as a real person trying so hard to pick up the pieces of his shattered life, giving more weight to his central argument that society’s negative labelling of addiction is a major barrier to effective treatment.
So, The Golden Boy wasn’t exactly what I was expecting going in, but I believe it has value, especially if you haven’t heard much about addictions from the suffering side: It’s probably not a bad place to start learning.