Beautiful Boy is subtitled “A Father’s journey through his son’s addiction.” I first saw this book for sale in a Starbucks several years ago, and it sounded compelling. I saw it in Entertainment Weekly magazine, and I read about it in a few other places. Our school library had it in a featured section, and I took another look at it last month. The topic hit me more than before now that I have two sons. What if one of them became a drug addict? How would I react? Just reading the jacket blurb made me feel that ache in my heart over losing one of my two boys to a destructive habit, so I decided that it was time to read it.
I’m glad that I did. Sheff is a master at this format, taking the reader through many aspects of addiction, especially in addiction to methamphetamines. He writes the account in present tense, an odd decision as most stories are commonly told in past tense. Shaff’s present tense makes us going along the journal with him. This technique helps the narrative feel more important and uncertain.
The strongest aspect of this story is a father’s love for his son. Shaff’s commitment to helping Nic at great cost to himself is (mostly) admirable. I felt his pain at seeing his son after a binge of meth, I sensed his fear with waiting for a call saying that Nic was dead, and I connected with his hope that this relapse would be the last relapse, even though we know it won’t be. This made me look at my sons differently. What if I’m going to remember this time right now 20 years from now when I wait to hear the doctor tell me whether he’ll survive the overdose. Will I reminisce about this Christmas in 20 years after I attend yet another parent support group for drug addicts? This book helped me to appreciate my boys more than ever before.
Another aspect that I liked about this book is the information on methamphetamines, and the danger they pose. There is no drug as unstable and the results so uncertain as meth, and Shaff offers much in the current treatment for this an other drugs. I’ve not read many or even any books on drug abuse, so this was useful. Along with this point, I see that our culture often makes too many jokes about meth addicts and tweakers. There certainly is nothing funny about this terrible drug, regardless of what Breaking Bad portrays.
I hesitate to criticize the book, as it is an account of a family’s pain, so I’ll only make a few comments about what I sensed as problematic. The first glaring one is the family’s disdain for God in this. God “appeared” in many different ways through the story, and I hoped that Nic or David would reach out and trust his guidance. Rather, there was hostility towards him on Nic’s part, and indifference on David’s. the other area that I saw was Nic’s compete freedom as a child. As a father, Shaff seemed to have no limitations on David in regard to what he watched or friends he spent time with. Later, Nic acknowledged that some of his problems stemmed from being treated as an adult and never being a child. That’s an interesting statement. I was shocked to hear that as a young boy, fifth grade or so, Nic could recite the opening line to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, a movie certainly not intended for boys. Nic needed a father, but Nic got a cool dad who liked cool music and cool movies.
Of course, he didn’t do drugs because he watched a rated R movie, but there is something to be said about exposing our children to the influences of the world, especially too early. And, we would do so much better as parents if we set standards rather than trying to be our children’s buddies. That does not good. At one time in the narrative after Nic has had problems with drugs, he asks David to smoke pot with him, and David agrees. While I appreciate the truthful addition, it should that there is something askew in this relationship.
Tis was a minor annoyance in my enjoyment of the book. I thought it was excellent in many regards, no I’m so glad that I read it. Anne Lamont has a quotation on the cover that sums up my thoughts on it: “This book with save a lot of lives and heal a lot of hearts.” I can see how both aspects of that cold be true.