Chosen as “MOST MEMORABLE MEMOIR” by Publishers Weekly in their “Year in Books” 2005
The Fix called Parched “charmingly unpretentious” and named it one of their Top Ten Addiction Memoirs. Parched is a memoir about alcoholism as the human thirst for meaning gone awry. It’s a memoir of resurrection. It’s a memoir about a particular kind of sickness — and healing — of the human soul. It’s a book about a God so merciful that he welcomes all prodigal sons and daughters home. With jokes.
“From sneaking drinks in small town New Hampshire to morning cocktails in Boston dive bars (before law school classes, no less), King chronicles her drinking years with wit and clarity. Earning a law degree while fighting off hangovers, dusting cockroaches off her dirty piles of clothes and swilling stale glasses of beer, King’s journey toward redemption is both appalling and hilarious. And when it seems there is no escape, she is pulled from the abyss by the most unlikely of sources. Casting her lot with the rest of humanity at last, she learns that suffering leads to redemption, that pain leads to compassion for other people who are in pain, and, above all, that a sense of humor really, really helps.”
“Dark, poignant, and hilariously funny. King’s escapades evoke the demons that drive and haunt us all.” – Denis Leary
“A hefty chaser of humor and redemption before last call” – L.A. Weekly
“Loaded with jokes and wicked anecdotes…Parched is a big-picture kind of memoir, literary and complete.” – Boston Phoenix
“A remarkable story of spiritual enlightenment from the depths of alcoholism.” – Bradley Quick Shaw, KRLA (Los Angeles)
“Pained adolescence…sordid drinking days…King avoids the cliches in favor of self-deprecating humor…terrifying, and equally human.” – Nashville Scene
“Gives us all hope for embracing grace” – National Catholic Reporter
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner I was conceived.
Perhaps it’s true that geography is destiny, for the distinguishing feature of my New Hampshire childhood was the gigantic hole behind our house known simply as the Pit.
My older brother and sister set off cherry bombs in the Pit, we staged snowball battles in the Pit, the view from my bedroom window was of the Pit: a big, gouged-out cavern, with bare, dun-brown runnels and washes, that had been excavated to provide gravel for Route 95, the interstate turnpike that ran a mile west of our back yard.
Holed up in my bedroom, chin mashed to the sill, I gazed out over that unsightly gash, burning it into my brain as a metaphor for the dry well I somehow already knew I was fated to spend my life trying to fill.
In 1958, the year I started first grade, my father built the house we lived in: a brick-and-shingle four-bedroom garrison with a double garage and a breezeway.
I once heard a woman say that when God gave her something she had prayed for, He usually attached to it a condition that somehow also made it as if she hadn’t gotten what she prayed for. Now I see it wasn’t God so much as my own compulsively negative thinking, but I knew exactly what she meant, for while our house was sturdy, well-maintained, and clean, all I could see were its defects, its faults, the things it lacked. In the shower, a cheap plastic accordion door jumped its runners every time it was open or closed. The storm windows, booby-trapped with broken catches, crashed down like dumbbells on defenseless fingers. The landscaping comprised a mangy bed of myrtle, a patchy lawn–“dry as a coco mat,” my father mourned each August–and a crabapple tree that defied every law of nature by staying the exact same size year after barren year.
In summer, Dad kept a vegetable garden, but he had no truck with heirloom tomatoes, herbs, gay patches of marigolds. He grew cabbages, carrots, potatoes, as if we were Russian peasants storing up for a winter on the steppe–which wasn’t that far off the mark. Every so often a blast shattered the air over breakfast: the old man leaning out of the upstairs bathroom window with his .22. “Got the bastard!” he’d cry in triumph, and I’d look out beyond my plate of pancakes to see a small brown woodchuck crumpling to the ground among the beet plants.
Born with a black cloud over my head, every tiny thing a struggle, I was tormented from the start by the skewed perspective and overwrought nerves that would later make oblivion so inviting. I looked well-adjusted enough on the outside, but inside my distorted thoughts had already begun to double back, settle into obsessive ruts, feed on themselves. Telltale signs of a prematurely twisted psyche–morbid sensitivity, exaggerated fear–leaked out all over the place, just as an apparently healthy gum, in the early stages of pyorrhea, when pressed sometimes oozes blood.
Those were the days of Sputnik, Khrushchev, the Iron Curtain; of air-raid drills when our teacher Mrs. Strout would instruct us to put our hands over our ears and–in the ever-so-slightly doomed hope that a laminated slab of wood and four metal legs would prevent us from being incinerated by an atom bomb–crawl beneath our desks. They were also the days of TV shows with names like “Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”; shows whose central paradigm was the existential dilemma; shows featuring men in suits with terrified eyes and sweat above their upper lips, women in shirtwaists fleeing in panic from Empire State Building-sized gorillas, Martians, mutant blobs.
I, too, was seized with panic: watching those shows, I was convinced they would get us, they would chase us down, they would stick needles in us and take us away on their spaceships. I didn’t know that the enemy was not outside, but within. I didn’t know that the enemy had been creeping through the family of mankind, in one way or another, since Eve succumbed to the serpent. I didn’t know that the enemy was me.
Mom and Dad couldn’t afford extravagances like amusement parks or bowling alleys, but the July after second grade, a bus filled with other nature-bound gradeschoolers stopped in front of our house each morning, picked me up, and drove us to Camp Gundalow. For a summer here and there, for a month at least, we all got to go to day camp, but with my two closest-in-age siblings 7 years older and 5 years younger than me, that year I went alone.
Camp Gundalow was on the outskirts of Greenland, the adjacent town, and with its relatively free-form schedule, its shadowed clearings where we learned to send smoke signals in case we got lost, the hushed trails that Indians had once trod, far removed, it seemed to me, from everyday time and space. The lodge was hung with hand-lettered displays–drooping snake skins, one-winged moths; the mess hall smelled of warm pine and dust. In the mornings, we identified wildflowers and pinned beetles to corkboard; afternoons, we wove lanyards out of gimp and made Popsicle-stick cufflink caddies. At four o’clock, before the bus came to take us home again, the flag was lowered and folded: a camper at each end: halves, halves again, triangle, ends folded under.
I, too, wanted to be a good citizen, but one part of camp resisted my allegiance–the swimming pool: ice blue, smelling of chlorine and rubber. I couldn’t relax into the rhythm, couldn’t let go; didn’t trust the bleachy water not to flood into my nose and mouth and lungs, to reach out and take me under, like one of those mutant TV aliens. While the other kids did jack-knives and cannonballs, I struggled along the shallow end: arms stiff and unyielding, hands rigid, self-conscious claws. My campmates progressed through to Porpoise and even Whale. I barely made it from Tadpole to Minnow.
The last day of camp was Field Day. That morning I signed up for the two-legged race, the potato sack run, the broad jump, and then, with the same longing for redemption that impels a sinning supplicant to the altar, wandered over to the swimming pool. A mimeographed sheet listed the events: the butterfly, the crawl relay, the breath hold. The breath hold?! My heart leaped. Here, at last, was a water activity at which it might be possible to excel.
I signed my name with shaky fingers, obsessed about it all through the other, less emotionally fraught events and, terrified they’d start without me, showed up at the pool fifteen minutes early. The others–tan, confident–performed casual practice dives and joked with Jeff, the 15-year-old counselor whose bare chest and thrilling underarm hair radiated a godlike unapproachability. I hung back in the shadows, nervously wondering whether we were supposed to bunch together or spread out; whether I’d be better off in the shallow or the deep end; whether you were allowed to hold on to the edge or had to tread water.
“Take your places,” Jeff hollered: I found a spot near the middle and gingerly lowered myself in. “One, two, three, UNDER!” I gulped air, held my nose and ducked. One, one thousand, two, one thousand…the pink skirt of last year’s bathing suit fluttered gently. Twenty-two, one thousand, twenty-three, one thousand…silvery water bubbles floated on the surface of my undernourished thighs. Thirty-eight, one thousand, thirty-nine, one thousand…The whistle blew once, and then again and again as the others gave up and shot through the surface of the water. When I finally came up myself, purple and gasping, I was on the verge of requiring CPR, but I had done it: I had won first place in the breath hold.
“Atta girl,” Jeff said as he began setting up for the ring toss, and Charlene, a seventh-grader so developed she already wore a bra, absentmindedly patted my arm as she walked by.
The glow lasted only a minute, but already I was willing to go to any lengths for a drop of approval, a dribble of a sense of belonging, a trickle of the feeling that I was loved. Already I was practically willing to die for it.