Oran Canfield’s memoir is part Running With Scissors, part Mommie Dearest. It’s the antithesis of the trite feel good books by his father, Jack Canfield. The Chicken Soup books are supposed to make you feel good, but lack any real substance. Long Past Stopping, on the other hand, makes you feel terrible, but is filled with dense narrative.
Instead of a typically standard timeline, Canfield takes two tracks, simultaneously, and weaves one around the other. In the first, we witness a child slowly becoming a man. His strange journey through oddball alternative schools, summer camps and traveling circuses read like a fantasy gone wrong. It’s Fellini-as-life but the film won’t end. This serves as his colorful background to the second, equally important but certainly less light-hearted track.
The second reveals the man as he goes through an endless and depressing cycle of addiction/rehab/addiction. Creating his book without the first track would be wrist-slitting, leaving readers hopeless. Canfield is just that deeply addicted to nearly every thing he gets his hands on. He crushes our hopes for him ad nauseum. The chapters dealing with his unending, bottomless drug sprees are highly frustrating to read. But the fact that I had to continue on proved he trapped me. I liked him in spite of himself. When a writer can do that, it says something. And the device of two tracks serves as a balance rather than an annoyance.
The only thing I wasn’t sure about initially was the way the chapters were arranged. Each chapter alternates between adulthood and childhood. Initially I found this distracting and disruptive to the pacing of the book, but as I continued to read I found that he intentionally does this to interweave certain childhood experiences with more recent ones. He’ll plant seeds for you in stories of his childhood that you pick up on and become more relevant in a situation he has in his twenties. I later discovered that it makes the pacing genius, as he ends each chapter with a teeth grinding nail-biter that you are forced to wait for two chapters to find out the outcome.
The writing is strong in this very personal saga. You get a realistic, first-hand look at what life is like for someone hopelessly addicted to heroin. It’s not romantic or pretty and it’s heartbreaking. Canfield writes it in a way that keeps our interest levels high, even though the subject matter is downright horrible. Like the video from a crime scene security cam, each chapter is written in gritty detail and we can’t look away. A subtle sense of humor is sporadically injected to help give us a bit of relief. Even his short chapter descriptions are a sign that this is a man who sees the funny side of the crappiest existence possible during his horse latitudes.
While the book does cover a lot of bizarre and painful moments in Oran’s life, it is written well and it is written with an amazing amount of humor. I definitely laughed out loud as many times as I cried. Oran is a very good writer. He has a gift with words. He has definitely found his voice. He has a real talent for writing in a way that keeps you turning the pages–wanting to know what happens next.