There's no way to put it nicely. The Night of the Gun is the memoir of a recovering cokehead/alcoholic who through sheer, almost ugly, force of will, gets sole custody of his twin daughters and becomes a reporter for the New York Times. Having first learned of David Carr through his video blogging for the Times over several Oscar campaigns—he has rotten taste but managed to correctly pick Crash over Brokeback Mountain—I always assumed he was a skinny homosexual. Apparently, he's more of a serial girlfriend beater. The only reason he isn't 300 pounds is a bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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The Night of the Gun should have been unbearable. But Carr tempers self-recrimination with humility, including a quiet respect for the religion of his ancestors and a wry tolerance for corny support-group slogans. He also counters the untidy shame of the junkie genre with the no-nonsense tactics of the journalist. At first, Carr's obsession with reinterviewing former acquaintances, excavating stomach-turning medical records and police reports, and fact-checking his clearest memories seems like showing off. Soon, though, it becomes clear that this rigor is a signal for the anxiety with which he approaches his mortifying past. His meticulousness is indeed a form of posturing, but it adds another layer to the book.

There are irritating things about this memoir, including rampant name-dropping (Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Rene Descartes, Oliver Sacks, John Cheever, Ivan Pavlov, William Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens all make appearances in the first 30 pages; close personal buddies Tom Arnold and Jayson Blair sneak in by the end) and a number of too-short, throwaway chapters. Still, it's unsparing and smart. I don't want to meet Carr, necessarily, but I'm happy to have made the acquaintance of his book.