Whisky & Culture

Fun and fatality are the mark of Sorrow

Jefferson Chase takes Drew Barrymore's advice (really!) and buys a cheap copy of Tim Sandlin's Sorrow Floats
By Jefferson Chase
I bought Tim Sandlin’s Sorrow Floats from my local used bookshop for two reasons. I was intrigued by the idea of an apparently successful novelist from Wyoming, who previously worked as an elk skinner, an ice cream man and a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant.But mainly I was struck by the endorsement from Drew Barrymore on the back cover. I’d never taken a book recommendation from a child star
turned drug addict turned Charlie’s Angel before, so I plunked down six euros on the counter. I headed home fearing the worst.What I’d purchased turned out to be a funny, vulgar, light hearted and original novel about a drunken 1970s road trip. As the plot opens, the protagonist Maurey Pierce has just lost custody of her baby son for forgetting to take the child seat – containing child – off the roof of her car before driving away from a bar.Disgusted with herself, she decides to reclaim her estranged daughter, whom she bore at the age of 14 and who now lives in North Carolina.So she absconds with two recovering alcoholics on a mission to smuggle a trailer-load of Coors Beer to the east coast. Among Maurey’s many problems is her inability to overcome the death of her father, who was killed when riding her favourite horse.The crazy plot produces some wonderful descriptions of drink and drinking.I poured myself a coffee cup full of Yukon Jack. Cradling the cup with both hands, I stared into the light molasses-coloured liquid. Was there a connection between this and Dad? Closing my eyes, I brought the cup to my lips and smelled the fumes. The sweet fire swept around my tongue and under it onto the saliva glands, then to the back of my mouth, where, like advancing lava, it flowed into my body. The
shoulder muscles, the jaw tight from clenching in my sleep, the fist-size rock in my stomach – everything let go at once. It was better than a masturbated orgasm.High praise indeed. If Yukon Jack is looking for a new ad slogan, then using “Better than a masturbated orgasm” would sure stir up publicity.The plot is consistently fun, but what really gives Sorrow Floats its drive is Maurey Pierce. She’s one of those rare literary characters you’d love to meet in real life – not least because of her acid tongue.Here’s a small sample of her ruminations while pondering her growing addiction and the disaster that has become her life.Pud’s kind of cute in a retarded sort of way.Comfort isn’t so much drinking whiskey as knowing where the next whiskey will come from.The trouble with drinking in bars is you run into the sort of people who hang out in bars.I made a deal with God, but he let down his end of the gig, which was to give me strength, so I let down my end, which was don’t drink.Only amateurs throw up before last call.Had Oscar Wilde been born in Wyoming, this is what he could have sounded like.Sadly, all fun must come to an end, and the end of Sorrow Floats isn’t much fun.The novel positively 12-steps its way toward a somewhat predictable and moralistic conclusion.Not knowing much about Tim Sandlin, I can’t say whether the AA scenes are based on experience.But I can say that, whatever the merits of ‘one day at time’ for getting your life in order,’ the homilies of recovering alcoholics aren’t nearly as entertaining as the verbal firecrackers that light most of these pages.All in all, though, this is one hell of a book, and if you quit reading 30 pages before the end, you’ll be left with a fine taste in your mouth.And hey, Drew Barrymore, thanks for the tip. If you’re ever in Berlin, give me a ring and I’ll buy you a dr…er, a coffee.Tim Sandlin’s Sorrow Floats is available from Riverhead Books.