With sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and penetrating honesty, New York Times journalist Dave Itzkoff turns a keen eye on his life with the mysterious, maddening, much-loved man of whom he writes, “for the first eight years of my life I seem to have believed he was the product of my imagination.”
Itzkoff’s father was the man who lumbered home at night and spent hours murmuring to his small son about his dreams and hopes for the boy’s future, and the fears and failures of his own past. He was the hard-nosed New York fur merchant with an unexpectedly emotional soul; a purveyor of well-worn anecdotes and bittersweet life lessons; a trusted ally in childhood revolts against motherly discipline and Hebrew school drudgery; a friend, advisor, and confidant. He was also a junkie. In Cocaine’s Son, Itzkoff chronicles his coming of age in the disjointed shadow of his father’s double life—struggling to reconcile his love for the garrulous protector and provider, and his loathing for the pitiful addict.
Through his adolescent and teen years Itzkoff is haunted by the spectacle of his father’s drug-fueled depressions and disappearances. In college, Itzkoff plunges into his own seemingly fated bout with substance abuse. And later, an emotional therapy session ends in the intense certainty that he will never overcome the same demons that have driven the older man. But when his father finally gets clean, a long “morning after” begins for them both. And on a road trip across the country and back into memory, in search of clues and revelations, together they discover that there may be more binding them than ever separated them.
Unsparing and heartbreaking, mordantly funny and powerfully felt, Cocaine’s Son clears a place for Dave Itzkoff in the forefront of contemporary memoirists.
In his second memoir, New York Times reporter Itzkoff (Lads) turns his attention to his father, an outlandish man who was a drug addict for most of his life. He begins by explaining how his father's cocaine habit made him, as a little boy, believe his father "was the product of my imagination." As father and son try to resolve the problems created by such an upbringing, they find themselves in couples therapy, which leads to a closer yet still strained relationship. The author begins to understand his father by finding out what his dad's favorite albums to snort cocaine to were, attending reunions, and visiting his father's old neighborhood. These historical undertakings have mixed results, both in terms of fixing his relationship with his dad and as relatable stories for his readers. The episodic narrative at times loses momentum. Still, Itzkoff is a talented writer, and whether he is describing his parents' free-spirited lifestyle before he was born as "their Martin Scorsese years" or composing a chapter using only dialogue to demonstrate "How We Argue in My Family," his prose proves both entertaining and sensitive enough to make this a worthy addition to the recent array of addiction-based memoirs.