It’s clear within the first few paragraphs that Alan Kaufman has no intention of holding anything back in Drunken Angel. The book brings the reader into his life as a young writer, a soldier in Israel, a husband, an addict, and finally a father, with many more twists and turns throughout. There were moments, while reading, that I disliked things he did and had I met him then, I probably wouldn’t have liked him very much. However, Kaufman’s willingness to open up so completely to his reader, to put himself in such a vulnerable position, won my respect.
Kaufman is a poet and it is clear in his prose. When talking about his childhood, which probably could have filled a book on its own, there were parts that seemed a little disjointed or cut off from the rest and I couldn’t quite sink into the book the way I wanted to. Knowing that Kaufman is a poet, I read those sections the way I imagined he would read them at a poetry slam, and it made a huge difference in my experience as the reader. His voice, spoken and written, is so distinct that once I let myself just go along for the ride, there was no way the book was going to let go.
The combination of things that Kaufman experiences are completely unique unto him. I’ve never been part of the military, never been married, don’t have any children, never struggled with alcohol—yet I always felt like I could relate to Kaufman in a strange way. He has a wonderful way of inserting universal elements into almost outlandish situations and they quickly, while remaining relevant to the story, give us a relatable insight into him and ourselves. The moment that drew me into his story and made me feel invested in him, was one of these moments:
For this reason I read voraciously. Books filled my vacant psychic well with content: social codes, subtleties, perspectives. I had an aptitude for absorbing and regurgitating quantities of commentary, ideas, tastes, preferences, attitudes drawn from whatever book I happened to be immersed in at the time. I would be Faulknerian one week, Hemingwayesque the next, and Hamsun-like the week after. Even my ways of speaking changed to reflect those shifts in reading.
It may not be the most eloquent or interesting part of the book, but it hit so close to home that it was impossible to skim over. Everyone who reads this book will have one of those moments.
Kaufman’s story is entertaining, at times heart-breaking, and thoroughly engaging. There will be times that you may not like him and you just want him to get his act together; other times you will pity him. He’s funny and can be endearing. Even if you go through part of the book not liking him too much, like I did, you will respect the passion and honesty that it took for him to be able to write his amazing story.