This will be a somewhat lengthy review. Because there’s no other way to do this memoir justice. If at all.
I remember it clearly. Barack Obama is running for the Presidency in 2008 and a journalist corners him. He’s asked to comment on Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, who has just disclosed that she will soon become a teenage mom. Despite the nastiness and cruel attacks from Palin, Obama doesn’t bite. He shakes his head, says he won’t be judging anyone, and wishes them the best. Then he reminds the journalist his mother was a teenage mom. End of story. Let’s move on. Don’t try that again.
Oh, how different things are today. The treatment of Hunter Biden, a private citizen, by political opponents of his father is something that truly captures how low the MAGA movement is willing to go to stay in power. To ridicule those as if we don’t all have skeletons. I seem to recall that GWB was addicted to cocaine. Nixon was an alcoholic. Cheney shot someone. And they were public servants. Hunter Biden is not. Before reading this book, I knew little about Hunter Biden except for the fact that Trump and his cronies were literally stalking him and/or using him as a punch line to distract from the embarrassing amount of corruption they themselves perpetuate. Trump was also attempting to get dirt on Biden from Ukraine in an effort to destroy a formidable opponent he knew was widely respected, Joe Biden. Not only did the Ukraine mess lead to Trump’s second impeachment (Ass.), but it continues to perpetuate conspiracy theories about Biden’s business interests that are just not true (looking at you, Fox News and Qanon).
What’s even worse is that during the time the Trump family and their rabid supporters harassed Biden by repeatedly asking ‘Where’s Hunter?”, he was struggling through some of the most debilitating days of his drug addiction. Imagine having a stomach flu and someone decides to eat sushi and anchovies in front of you with little consideration for your well-being or your gag reflex. That’s what this was. Salt on a wound. I remember being worried about Hunter Biden. This man I’d never met, and will never meet. Then I got angry and started to mouth off online in his defense.
Yep. I was pissed. Because is this what we do now? We take a vulnerable person and drag them publicly through the mud, knowing the harm it could cause? We all know how stigma makes addiction and disease worse. Drug addiction will always be taboo or even mocked but you still expect better from the highest office in the land. Then Joe Biden won the election. And Hunter wrote a book. And I needed to read it. Because dude survived the hunt.
I devoured this beautifully written memoir in a day. At the core of his message of love, acceptance, and perseverance is Hunter’s brother, Beau, who died far too young yet made an impact as deep as a moon crater. Hunter’s adoration of Beau and his deep connection to their father, now our President (thank heavens) sort of took my breath away. Is that what family is? I’ve never known it, but damnit if there isn’t something more beautiful. I loved reading about his childhood as a politician’s son, his demerits in school (lol), and his tireless work for people struggling after natural disasters all while he himself silently drowned in self-destruction and self-doubt.
Before I delve further, I think it’s necessary for me to point out that I read this from the perspective of someone who also never got to experience the love of a biological mother and has had my own share of loss. I also looked at it through the lens of my day job as a Probation Officer. I’ve been that person to drive a withdrawing probationer to detox, or paid for their dinner, or fight with their insurance company. Yeah, “those people”. The people struggling through drug court. The mother who drove drunk with her children in the car. The guy who beat his girlfriend up with a bat when he was fucked up on PCP and now hates himself. Or the Wall Street bro who has to stand in line at the methadone clinic first thing in the morning so he can get through the rest of day. None are bad people. Not one. They do bad things. But they aren’t bad. And neither is Hunter Biden. I guarantee you too will find a connection. Whether it’s Biden’s middle class childhood, his grief at losing his mother and infant sister, his determination to make it on his own without the help of his father, becoming a father himself, his failed relationships, or his whirlwind romance with his wife Melissa. It’s life. And it’s messy, confusing, awesome, and complex. While the stories may be different, the feelings are the same.
Biden’s account of his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine is not for the faint of heart. If you’re uncomfortable, good. That’s the point. And my God, does our boy have a tolerance to somehow survive week-long binges. There were several points where I asked myself how he was still alive or not in prison. And I say this as someone who has found people dead following an overdose, and put people in prison. Despite living an affluent lifestyle, none of that matters when your addiction leads you to the seedy, unforgiving underbelly, which it did for him and will for anyone who goes down that path. And if you are thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie I hate, you aren’t too far off from what Biden’s life was like. Unlike other memoirs I’ve read on drug addiction, this really gets into the nitty gritty of crack cocaine use. How insidious it is. How chaotic it makes you, as you stay awake for two days straight. The time, money, and self-respect you waste looking for that next high. The wash, rinse, then repeat lifestyle that both confuses, exhausts, and aggravates the ones you love. How you try to hide your use, followed by the inevitable case of the fuck-its. And through it all, you remember that regardless of love, support, money, or the completion of the most expensive treatment programs, sobriety cannot and will not be achieved unless you find it within you to ferociously fight Spartan 300 style and say enough is enough. I’m worth more. I’m conquering this. And even after you’ve kicked it down a well, it takes work to prevent it from climbing back up.
At several points in the book Biden talks about his brother’s welcoming blue eyes and how that drew people to him. I got the sense that he doesn’t see that exact same feature in himself. Yes, the shades of blue differ slightly but the kindness and absence of judgment gazing out at us still reigns supreme. He could have used this memoir and his platform to drag Trump, Trump’s children, the media, and especially the Republican Party for enabling it all. But like his dad, he doesn’t. And that is a sign of pureness of heart and maturity that many connected to politics lack. Drug addiction, poor decisions, sleeping with prostitutes, and bad divorces don’t determine how good we are inside. And my sense, even though he’s now sober, is that he is still coming to terms with the decisions he’s made. Of course, that’s natural. All the while, he’s still his father’s son and his brother’s brother. And his current path of recovery and telling a story that needs to be told is more important and will touch more lives than he’ll ever be able to fathom. So go ahead, MAGA. Try to hunt him down. No one has put Hunter Biden through more pain and heartache than Hunter Biden.
Warning: This memoir could possibly trigger you if you are currently struggling or in recovery. So, take breaks if you need to stop and remember the beautiful things. After all, you can’t truly appreciate all the world’s beauty unless you’ve witnessed the ugly.
Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Available on Audible, narrated by Hunter Biden.