Bruni is among a minority of men in dialogue about eating disorders today. "Almost all the discussion about eating disorders is focused on women," he says. "Society ... tells men to be stoic and that talking about ooey-gooey vulnerabilities is not masculine."
Both memoirs get at the heart of addiction's tedium. In each tawdry vignette of Clegg's cracked-out narrative, he moves like a sleepwalker with no hope of waking, prodding the underbelly of New York in the mean search for a fix. It's a broken record: cab ride, hotel room, cab ride, hotel room, and the paranoia in-between. These urban encounters are the stuff of Hubert Selby Jr.
Bruni moves at a like rhythm, throwing up meals as if it were breathing or blinking: a habit he just can't kick. Something, as he writes, "encoded in [his] genes."
Perhaps the act of buying into a memoir is like paying admission for a nasty, self-indulgent carnival (for example, Eat Pray Love). Or perhaps it's just fuel for postmodern narcissism. Ex-denizens of addiction's terrain will marvel at how both Bruni and Clegg balk at blaming others. Though if I were Bruni, I might blame his mom and her bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
There are moments in Portrait where Clegg peers beneath the detritus to blame some bad parenting, but in the end, he really blames no one. "The process of repair will be going on for the rest of my life," Clegg tells me. "My primary work is with other alcoholics and addicts. It's through that work I stay sober and rebuild my relationships."
Bruni says the heavy lifting is in "constantly reminding yourself where you've been, where you don't want to go, and how you got to those places that make you unhappy." His temptations to binge remain at large. "Just last night after ... a really good meal in a restaurant," he explains, "I came close to buying a pint of ice cream. I took a deep breath and said, okay, are you really hungry? Are you thinking about the potential subtle difference you'll feel in your pants tomorrow if you eat this?" Bruni's a funny guy, and I want to laugh, but I don't. "It's ... an ongoing struggle that I don't think will ever end."
Though there's no end in sight for Clegg and Bruni, at least they're not tacking on a happy ending and pulling any punches, because, ultimately, that would be relapsing.
FRANK BRUNI: BORN ROUND
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3885 Cesar Chavez, SF
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