annotation by Patrick O’Neil
Sequels are tough. The reader has expectations, a preconceived idea as to what the author has to achieve, and a need for the book to be as good, if not better than the original. However, this also creates another set of problems: the author is either expected to write a continuation of the same sort as their first book, or the author is negatively critiqued for having written the same book twice – it is almost a no win situation, and at best a daunting prospect for the author. Plus, here we’re talking nonfiction/memoir, and time has passed, the author isn’t where he was when the first book was written. Like all of us, he has aged, his life has continued, a lot has changed, and while making new memories, the past hasn’t been forgotten, and is never far from mind.
Taking all of the above into consideration James Brown’s This River, the follow up to his first book of memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, thankfully not only steers clear of repeating himself, but takes the reader into another evolving chapter of Brown’s life. Where in The Los Angeles Diaries Brown maintained a distance, mostly writing from a point of observation, never really taking responsibility for his actions, instead blaming it all on being an addict. Here, he not only takes full responsibility, but he also let’s the reader know why, argues the irrationality of his resentments and negative thoughts, and makes considerations for those around him. He achieves this in two ways. He shows the reader by using examples of his actions to demonstrate emotions, and with his choice of language for the dialogue in order to convey the sense of love and caring he is capable of, even though he’s a practicing drunk/drug addict. This humanizes the “demon”, and allows the reader into the world of those who live with him, and ultimately lets us see Brown through a more compassionate eye. As, ultimately, all addicts are not cold-blooded sociopaths. The majority are normal/regular folks with an all-consuming dependency that doesn’t allow them the “luxury” of showing feelings. Their focus is solely on whatever substance they’ve become addicted to. And instead of telling this to the reader, Brown has avoided using the overly clinical nomenclature of recovery that a majority of “addict/recovery memoirs” use, and instead presents a complete portrait for his audience to judge for themselves.