A Really Good Book About Hurting Your Friends, Hitting Rock-Bottom Alcoholism and Finding God


The arc of Amends is that of a teenager’s first night of drunkenness: overwhelming right off the bat, then confusing and ridiculous, then crushingly depressing.

And yet when it ends, you’re still sad it’s over.

Source: Thomas Hawk on flickr

In the tradition of the reality TV it skewers, the novel’s first act is a rapid-fire introduction to a deliberately eclectic cast of characters. It feels cheap—just like reality TV. Different races, different sexual orientations, a girl who identifies as “wolf-kin.” They’re all boxes checked by a producer eager for eyeball-drawing conflict and weirdness.

But in her treatment of the characters, recovering alcoholics and outcasts all, Amends author Eve Tushnet displays all of the sensitive depth that reality TV lacks.

Throughout the course of filming a TV show of the same name, the Amends cast wrestles with personal responsibility, owning their alcoholism and making “amends” with the people they’ve wronged. They don’t all exactly succeed.

They wrestle with forgiveness and the concept of God.

They all come to different conclusions, or no conclusions at all.

Addicts are… gooey. Our morals are very stretchy. We don’t have a clearly defined sense of self because we’ve crossed so many of the lines which used to define us. ‘I’ll never drink on the job,’ ‘I’ll never have sex with a guy just because he has drugs,’ those are things you use to draw a line between you and the world, that’s your skin. And when you cross those lines it’s like you don’t have skin anymore and you’re just oozing all over the place… you do whatever you can get away with.
— Amends

But those characters tho

At times, the story has a chaotic, carnival ride feel to it—as wildly diverse as, say, the LEGO movie, but with different flavors of alcohol instead of different types of LEGO sets coloring the action. The periodic interjection of “Internet commentary” about the TV show adds to the frenetic feeling.

One character I wish had been treated differently: the “wolf-kin” girl. I can’t decide whether her character seems shoehorned in, un-fleshed out, there just for social-justice-warrior-satirizing laughs, or whether the lack of depth is a genuine portrayal of a single-minded Tumblr youth. She starts flat and stays flat.

Some characters’ stories feel as if they merit a particular emotional payoff, that moment when a long-referenced ex or parent steps back into the character’s life dramatically, but Tushnet gratifyingly resists deploying several of those overtly predictable moments.

And despite the plotted-out diversity of the cast, if Amends has a central character—and I’m not sure it does—it seems to be a straight white male.

His story is boring, macho and pathetic.

But his complicated, tragic relationships with those who love him, including two gay men displaying underrepresented forms of devoted affection, illustrate the powerful themes at Amends’ core: parenthood, friendship, the destructive ripple effects of addictive behavior and the soothing—but not past-erasing—power of apology and forgiveness.

All you need is love

[L]ook at the structure of it. I am sorry. I have become sorrow for my misdeeds. I have become penitence. This is a promise to the other person, like wedding vows.
— Amends

Tushnet, the author of Gay and Catholic, has both a unique perspective and a biting wit. That she uses them to touch such squishy topics as love, friendship, devotion and forgiveness only heightens the impact of her message. It’s genuinely heartbreaking, hopeful only in the most moderate way.

In the end, the tale doesn’t push a particular moral vision. In such a messy, relatable tale of addiction, woe and recovery, I don’t know that I would want it to. It merely offers suggestions on the path to finding love and peace.

It made me sad in the best way.

Source: Amazon

Zach Noble is a journalist who has covered everything from the OPM hack to a rescue dog's retirement party. He's been wrestling to reconcile his bleeding heart Catholicism with his pragmatic libertarianism since that freshman year love affair with Ayn Rand. He tweets erratically as @thezachnoble.