Once in a while we come across books which broaden our view of problems, delivering insight that makes the foundation for finding effective solutions. Writers on the Edge (Modern History Press, 2012), edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown, is such a book dealing with the widely prevalent problems of addiction and dependency. In this anthology, twenty-two writers speak about addiction and its impact on personal – physical and psychological – as well as social life of people.
Jerry Stahl in his foreword to the book explains the often confused meaning of the “edge”, saying that the “edge” actually is in the middle—i.e., when you are in the middle of turmoil, it is the stage often mistakenly, or for sake of verbal fashion, termed as the “edge”. This point is illustrated by the mostly poignant voices of the authors included in Writers on the Edge. Their memoirs, essays, and poems open to readers the journey through addiction, showing the gradual, often semi-intentional slipping into dependency on a substance, habit, or lifestyle that would ultimately stifle their growth as a person—sometimes leading to active suicide attempts. Unlike blaming it all on the object of addiction, the self-conscious writings here attempt to show the crevices in one’s own personality and integrity through which the desperate need for clinging to something oozes inside one’s being.
Individual pieces of writing in this book are brilliant and complete. Many of these writings are painfully honest and more than a few get the reader to a point of tenderness where the story of the writer, with all its power, replaces the reader’s surroundings. The insights vary from the angle(s) the writers take to explore the problem of addiction and dependency – ranging from Chase Twichell’s cuttingly thoughtful “eyes behind the eyes” element of one’s self to Frederick and Steven Barthelme’s grasping picture of the psychology of gambling, and Anna David’s dreaded “beep” of failure in creative expression leading to self-destructiveness.
Writers on the Edge is ultimately a book of hope, showing how people losing themselves to the shady grounds of addiction do always have the choice to take control and switch their direction to arrive at healthy, positive living. This is not a “how to” guide on taking a U-turn from a difficult situation but a personal journey of people who made it away from the “edge” by existential choice and self-realization; so why not anyone else?