Over a year ago, I left a Mariah Carey concert in Las Vegas after six songs. I had gone on the trip as a present to myself for turning forty. But I couldn’t enjoy it. I was high on multiple drugs, but mostly crystal meth, and extremely drunk. I had been this way the majority of the year and a half since my partner Pack had suddenly passed away.
I found him dead on the bathroom floor one January morning while I was getting ready for work. The police told me I had no rights in my own home and asked me to leave. This was before gay marriage became legal. Life as I knew it changed instantly.
His family pretended I didn’t exist. They mauled our home the day he died, leaving it a ravaged mess. I was kicked out of that home. I was also disinvited to his funeral. In eight days I lost everything that mattered. Not even the law protected me from this.
So I got high in an effort to shoulder the pain. It didn’t work. I carried the heavy weight of unresolved complicated grief and addiction on my back. It was like an elephant. A large, unwieldy elephant that wanted me to die.
No longer able to participate in anything that mattered and unwilling to bear this burden anymore, I went back to my hotel room on the twenty-sixth floor of a casino and looked out on the sparkly lights below. I wanted to be in the light. So I opened the window and decided to jump.
But God intervened. My mother had somehow found me. Help came and I surrendered to the powerlessness of my situation. I asked God to help me. I stayed and I fought and I learned how to love myself. I put on a pair of sparkly shoes I had bought for that barely attended concert and I walked in to the rooms of Crystal Meth Anonymous. I had bought the sparkly shoes hoping Mariah would see me in the audience. Though she didn’t get the chance, you did. You all embraced me and my sparkly shoes. They have become my calling card of experience, strength, and hope.
Unpacked Sparkle is in a first person narrative. The author has detailed his life from the day his partner died to the time he finally became sober, with chapters also devoted to his life before and after the two periods.
The premise is strong. A widowed gay man, addicted to drugs and fighting to reclaim his life. It is the kind of stuff that wins awards and gets adapted for Oscar-nominated films. The title of the book was similarly strong, focussing on something that mightn’t look like much, but is central to the lead character’s evolution. But that’s about as good as it gets.
Unfortunately, I found this book tedious. Part of the reason was that the chapters are written in a nonchronological order. Now this would’ve been welcome in a mystery. But this was a tale of fall and redemption, with the outcome already confirmed by the blurb. This meant that you had to read about the way the author’s partner died, then jump to his time getting high somewhere, then jump back to a time spent with one of his dear friends, then maybe jump to the pathetic and ignominious way he was treated by the police and his partner’s family, and so on. Sounds confusing? It is. This structure might have been chosen by the author to mirror the confused mental condition of drug addicts, but made reading difficult.
Another problem is the repetitive nature of quite a few details. I lost count of the times that I read about how Pack died, and the immediate aftermath. I mean, I understand that that incident is the catalyst for all the incidents that follow, but after a point, it became overwhelming. Also, there are long stretches where the author describe one or more characters in detail. Some of them don’t add much to the book’s narrative. Others are repetitive like The Incident. A good 40-50 pages of the book could have been shaved off from the 218-page length without having to compromise on the story. The book should have shown us why and how, should we empathise with him and root for him. While we do that, for sure, after a point one is simply waiting for the book to end, which is not a good thing.
But all is not doom and gloom. The author is brutally honest, which means he is able to see through his own mistakes and misbehaviours of the past. The way he behaves with people when he is pissed off, with or without reason, is deplorable. At the same time, it is expected from that sort of character.
Also, the book shows how drug and alcohol addictions can lead to intensification of mental disorders, besides creating a gulf between the addict and the ones who love him/her. The author was able to redeem himself and (most of) his relationships. Not everyone gets that chance, and the author alludes to that.
Finally, the book shows us how, by loving ourselves and seeing the beauty in everyone around us, we can lead a better life and fight our demons, both real and imagined.
Most of the chapters are named after pop songs. This is a reference both to the author being a fan of pop divas as also his deriving inspiration from their songs. Even in the image above, he is wearing a Britney Spears T-shirt.
Verdict : Unpacked Sparkle is a book with its heart in the right place. If only the execution had been better!
Genre : Autobiography, Memoir, Addiction.
Reading Guide : You might not like this book if sexuality, drug use and profanity in books turn you off.
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Rating : ⭐⭐⭐
Have you read Unpacked Sparkle? Did this review match up to your own? Kindly tell me in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.