Review: White Out by Michael W. Clune

Posted July 29, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 12 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: White Out by Michael W. CluneWhite Out by Michael W. Clune
Published by Hazelden on April 2, 2013
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 260
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours

Goodreads | Amazon

How do you describe an addiction in which the drug of choice creates a hole in your memory, a "white out," so that every time you use it is the first time--new, fascinating, and vivid? Michael W. Clune's original, edgy yet literary telling of his account of life inside the heroin underground reads like no other, as we enter the mind of the addict and navigate the world therein. After his descent into addiction, we go with him through detox, treatment, and finally into recovery as he returns to his childhood home. There his heroin-induced "white out" begins to fade.

(from the publisher's website)

I have always been interested in addiction: what causes it and how it affects people. Ever since reading Infinite Jest for the first time a couple of years ago, though, I have been much more aware of it and sympathetic to it on a personal level. I could read clinical studies of addiction and its causes and impacts, but what I’ve been choosing to read are personal accounts. Although most types of addiction have the same general properties and effects, every individual experiences addiction in their own way, and reading personal accounts gives names and faces to addiction and makes it…well…more personal. When I was asked by TLC Book Tours if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing White Out, I immediately said yes. Heroin addiction is not something I’ve read a lot about, and Michael Clune’s story sounded like a good place to start in learning more about it.

Much of White Out is written in a stream of consciousness style, which can make some of it hard to understand. In a way, this is a bit disappointing because I was left feeling like I didn’t really “get it” in some places. Here I am, trying to learn more about what it was like for Clune to be addicted to heroin, but I’m left feeling kind of lost. At the same time, I feel like that was maybe the point, because Clune was feeling a bit lost himself. I just had to keep telling myself, ‘Heather, you’ve never been addicted to heroin. Just keep reading, let it wash over you, and keep it moving.’ Once I started to just read and stopped trying to analyze, the feeling of Clune’s addiction started to come through and I think I understood it a little better.

This is what Clune has to say about heroin addiction and the feeling that every time he used it was the first time:

Then I see a white-topped vial. Wow. I stare at it. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. I know I’ve seen it ten thousand times before. I know it only leads to bad things. I know I’ve had it and touched it and used it and shaken the last particles of white from the thin deep bottom one thousand times. But there it is. And it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.

To me, being addicted to something that causes what Clune describes as a “memory disease” sounds terrifying. Imagine being addicted to a drug that you know is destroying you, but every time you think about it or see it or want it, it’s like the first time. There is no memory of why you know you shouldn’t be doing it. There’s no memory of all the other times you’ve done it. It’s always the first time, like you’re stuck in time (or always in the present moment) and the first time just keeps repeating itself over and over. In fact, Clune talked about time a lot in White Out and how he perceived time both on and off heroin.

Of course, Clune describing his addiction as a “memory disease” also makes me realize that he probably doesn’t truly remember what it was like while he was in the grip of heroin, hence the stream of consciousness or semi-muddiness of his story.

Eventually, Clune’s addiction got so bad that the heroin stopped working like he wanted it to. He writes about doing so much heroin that it was like going through a mini-overdose almost every night. His need for heroin got so bad that he ended up doing something extremely stupid that got him arrested and jailed. This was the beginning of his road to recovery. I’m both disappointed and grateful that Clune didn’t go into more detail about his withdrawal and his first four weeks off heroin in a rehabilitation center. I would have liked to read more about that experience, but at the same time, I think I’m better off without the details.

Even though White Out left me feeling that I didn’t quite “get it” in a way, I gave the book a four-star rating on Goodreads because I like the way Clune writes, and I have a lot of respect for him for telling his story in the first place. I think writing this book was a very brave thing to do, and I think that it has the potential to help people–both addicts and those close to them–who are going through the same things. I would recommend White Out to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs and/or anyone who is interested in learning more about what it is like to be addicted to heroin.

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  • Ok, so I’m not one to love books about or discussing addiction, in general. But man, you make me want to read this book. Serious addictions like these terrify me, honestly. I’ve never had an addictive personality, but with some people you read about, they don’t really seem to either. Of course, I’ve always been such a goody two shoes (I smoked a menthol cigarette ONCE when I’d had a bit too much to drink and thought I was edgy), so I guess it’s that “other” experience that is so scary. The other can so easily become the self.

    • I’m with you–I don’t love them, either, but I feel like I need to understand in order to sympathize/empathize. I have only ever dealt with alcoholism–it runs in both sides of the (extended) family–and understanding any addiction helps me better understand what those family members are going/have gone through. I guess it makes me dislike them a little less, and helps me to see it from a different perspective.

      I am terrified of the “other” in the case of addiction, too. I’ve been tipsy twice, never been drunk, and I was just telling sj that I’m probably the only one where I grew up who never even tried pot. I’m like the Highlander of Sobriety. Haha! But this is because I’m scared of addiction, since it seems to run in the family.

  • Great review- not a fan of stream of consciousness style, but this sounds very interesting!

    • Thanks! Yeah, it was a little tough to understand at a few points, but overall it was pretty good. And I *do* think SOC goes well with the subject matter, really.

  • The only addiction book I’ve read is More, Now, and Again, which is by the author of Prozac Nation. The problem was that the girl was soooo convincing in her arguments for drugs that I started to understand her reasoning – which was scary at the impressional young age of early 20’s that I was. Suffice it to say, I’m not a drug addict, but the book was a convincing one. (Plus, I read Prozac Nation and that clears things up for you!)

  • It’s too bad about the “getting it” but I think you’re probably right about Clune feeling so lost himself and not knowing just how to describe in words his addiction and such. I tend to shy away from these types of books–I actually didn’t realize that Infinite Jest dealt with addiction! but this one does sound like it shows a very human angle. It’s terrifying, isn’t it?

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    You might be onto something when you say that not getting it might have been part of the point. Imagine what it was like in this guy’s head while he was addicted?? Scary, and powerful, stuff.

  • I haven’t read much about addiction, but I like reading books that will help me understand mental illness, so this sounds really fascinating. And scary. I’m curious!

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  • My husband used to be a paramedic in Baltimore City and he saw heroin addiction first hand … it is a truly devastating thing. Anyone who can break that addiction deserves to be commended; I’m glad to see this author making a clean start in spite of his challenges.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  • Pingback: Michael W. Clune, author of White Out, on tour July 2013 | TLC Book Tours()

  • I love reading books about drugs and kind of obscure issues, but I’m disappointed to know that you didn’t love the book as much. I will probably grab it if I see it somewhere, but I won’t go looking for it. Thanks for the honest thoughts!