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Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson



American on PurposeAmerican on Purpose by Craig Ferguson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had no idea Craig Ferguson was a decent writer. Not that I know a lot about him, but this poignant and touching memoir is not what I expected from a comedian. Clearly, I've been reading the wrong memoirs.

This is the third book I've read this year written by a comedy writer/actor, and it's definitely my favorite of the three. While I'd gone in expecting something funny and light, I wound up a lot more impressed by his tale of redemption. Ferguson ties the story of his life together neatly through repetition, synchronicity, and highlighting moments when his friends chose differently than he did. The book opens with his meeting then-President Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which later contrasts with a story he tells about Peter Cook and Prince Charles.

Were this fiction, I would've been yelling at the main character for being too stupid to live. Ferguson sugar-coats none of the truth about alcoholism. He describes it in an informed way that clearly divides an alcoholic from a person who drinks. He also shows the lengths he would go to for, and in consequence of, alcohol. He describes waking up in puddles of filth he hopes are his own, getting arrested, cheating on his two wives and numerous girlfriends, blacking out, and finally missing out on Christmas at home. Alcohol puts him tens of thousands of dollars in debt, breaks up both of his marriages, loses him jobs, and gets in his way at every turn.

Were that the only narrative thread, I might've given up on it, but there are others: that of his career, and that of his desire to live in America, formed when he went to New York City with his father instead of going on a high school class trip. These give the story some hope, which luckily pays off. He doesn't get sober because of his desire to live in America, explicitly, but it helps.

I was expecting something like an extended stand-up routine from this book, but I liked what I got, instead. I knew the energy of a stand-up routine couldn't maintain an entire book, but this is serious stuff. And yet, Ferguson includes moments of levity that often had me chuckling aloud.

I listened to the audio edition of this book, which is read by Craig Ferguson. At one point, he marvels about Americans' fascination with Scottish accents, at which I had to admit that was a major bonus of this edition. Ferguson has a good, strong voice for audio listening, and no one knows the comedic timing of his writing better than he does. If you're not quite sold on this book, see if you can listen to a sample of the audio book. If that doesn't persuade you, this book is not for you.


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