The only decent fucking advice I’ve ever heard for those nights when you’re curled up under the kitchen table with a bottle of a Evan Williams and a .357. From David Lozell Martin.
Gin sometimes made Mr. Martin act badly and led to horrific blackouts on freeways, but it also, he notes, “put me into bed with beautiful and crazy women.” Mr. Martin’s early success as a writer (his novels include “The Crying Heart Tattoo” and “The Beginning of Sorrows”) also made him arrogant, he admits, and prone to affairs. His first marriage, to a woman who wanted a tame, suburban husband, ended in divorce.
No matter what happened, Mr. Martin writes, gin “took me back with juniper kisses.” So what if he sometimes went too far? “Craziness,” he says, “was the family business.”
He met his second wife and settled down. All was well on the farm in West Virginia until the money started to run out. Mr. Martin had switched from writing literary novels to writing thrillers, and he was more successful then ever. Until he wasn’t anymore.
“We were fine as long as we were poor,” he writes. But later, they did not have the sense to pull back and “live poor again.” They kept racking up the credit card debt, awaiting the next big score that never came.
They sold the farm and, in a kind of self-imposed exile, moved in quick succession to Florida and then Saratoga Springs and then Tennessee. In retrospect, Mr. Martin probably should have realized all was not well with his marriage when one day, as he and his wife were cutting brush along a fence line in Tennessee, she said to him, “I have an overwhelming desire to bury this machete in the back of your head.”
Before long she has had an affair, his writing career bottoms out and he is found to have diabetes. He shaves his head and comes close to committing suicide. He is saved by his adult son’s voice on the telephone saying, “Dad, I need you.” Soon Mr. Martin is living with that son and his wife and on the slow road to recovering his mental health. There are darkly funny bits amid the bad mess here. About suicide, Mr. Martin writes, “Life is so short that killing yourself is like falling out of an airplane without a parachute and then, on the way down, you blow your brains out.” There is this promising chapter title: “Looking for Work With a Shaved Head and a Twenty-Year Gap in the Résumé.” There is a mantra he discovers for when things look as if they can’t get any worse: “At least we don’t own a monkey.” And there is a scene involving a dangerously constipated Mr. Martin and an emergency-room doctor that is so graphic and disgusting that laughter is the only option.
I wish Mr. Martin had left out the self-help bromides he sprinkles into “Losing Everything.” He sinks pretty low toward the end, writing (oh, please, no) things like “Never lose a sense of wonderment” and “Take pleasure in small things.” For the most part, his book is better than that. And the next time I’m feeling down about some aspect of my life, I’ll keep in mind that at least I don’t own a monkey.