I’m trying to finish the book proposal for Cut Off At The Salad Bar before I head out of town on Wednesday. Here’s the first ~600 words of the overview. These are, presumably, the first words (minus revisions) a potential publisher or literary agent will read after the title page. Leave your thoughts in the comments section:
The magic number for alcohol-related blackouts is 0.15.
Drink enough to reach a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 – anywhere from two to four drinks, depending on your sex and body weight – and you hit that point where magnetic-resonance imaging will show decreased activity in the frontal areas of the brain – the bits of gray matter that deal with memory, decision making and attention. Double that intake to about 0.15 and your ability to record long-term memories goes away. There is evidence that the faster a person reaches that 0.15 threshold the more likely they are to blackout; that is to say that even though the person may be conscious and engaging with other people, the portion of the brain known as the hippocampus literally stops recording memories.
It’s not clear why people remember some events from a night of drinking and not others, and there is a theory that people are susceptible to suggestion when they try to piece together a night of overindulgence the following morning. As in, “You were so drunk, I can’t believe you X…” and then the drinker feels as if he or she “remembers” doing X.
A good analogy is that those portions of the brain are like a video recorder that records what you do, and alcohol can – but not always – erase portions of the tape (a better analogy is that those portions are never even recorded, but for the sake of metaphor, let’s say they were erased). The erasures are not as deliberate as the Nixon administration’s creative editing of the Watergate tapes. Instead, the edits are as random as if you had spilled something – a gin and tonic, perhaps – on your faithful VHS copy of Leaving Las Vegas. The drink erases parts of some scenes while preserving others. The randomness of the blackouts is what makes them so scary: a woman can remember the exact brand of cigarette she bummed off of a stranger in front of a nightclub and brushing her teeth before going to bed, but she may not remember being raped by the same stranger in the hours between those two events. Someone else may remember leaving the bar and parking their car when they get home, but not the fatal hit-and-run accident in between.
Binge drinkers – people who consume five or more drinks in one sitting – are more prone to blackouts, for obvious reasons. They’re also more prone to alcoholism, which raises many questions, not least of which is this: How the fuck do all these alcoholics manage to write memoirs about hitting rock bottom, complete with scenes of drunken nights and mornings told with swear-this-is-true authority?
Kick lit has transcended memoir and become a genre unto itself. While it usually covers alcohol addition (Lit, Marry Carr), other vices like heroin (Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis) or painkillers (Pill Head, Joshua Lyon) are also welcomed into the fold. It doesn’t matter if you’re only marginally famous (Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher) or not famous at all (Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp), a seasoned memoirist (Dry, Augusten Burroughs) or a writer from an entirely different genre (A Drinking Life, Pete Hammill).
Your story doesn’t even have to be true, for that matter (A Million Little Pieces, James Frey). And while we’re asking questions, here’s another: How did people not realize Frey had made big parts of this book when reading scenes about his first few, terrifying hours of sobriety that were rendered with precise detail?
Answers to questions like that don’t really matter (until they do) in the new culture of over-sharing: If you crashed and burned at rock bottom and rose to tell your story, that story (and accompanying film rights: Permanent Midnight, Jerry Stahl) should be sold.