A Down-and-Dirty Look at Addiction, From the Inside Out
Sonya Moriarty used to be a talented actress before she had Tommy. Now, the applause is gone, and she no longer has to be “brilliant”—she just has to be “present, sober, and normal.”
In her American debut novel, BRIGHT BURNING THINGS, author Lisa Harding takes readers on a realistic trip into the spiraling vortex of addiction.
Sonya knows she must be stable and nurturing to her four-year-old son, Tommy, but the rest of her body screams for alcohol. “Some otherworldly force has made its headquarters inside me and is issuing instruction I’m powerless to resist.” In her befuddled mind, Sonya convinces herself that her son is just fine. After all, their dog, Herbie, takes good care of him, never leaving his side.
A full-time mother, she desperately tries to care for Tommy. Being with him is the “only place in the whole world where I now hold any power, where my actions have any agency. Finally, I have stepped into the role of the director or, even better, the writer, and these characters are mine to do with as I want.”
But Sonya knows her temper has been short, and she comes dangerously close to hurting Tommy and Herbie. She tries to erase it from her mind until Tommy pleads with her, “Don’t let the bad fairy fly inside tonight, please, Yaya.”
Her “flirtation [with alcohol] had turned into a full-blown affair.”
Even when her neighbor notices her motherly neglect, Sonya rationalizes away her concern. She’s just a busybody who can’t mind her own business. But when Sonya’s estranged father shows up on her doorstep, she must consider whether she’s a “Monster Mother.” If she doesn’t go into rehab, her father tells her, the authorities will take Tommy away.
Sonya reluctantly moves to “the madhouse” and attends a 12-week program of abstinence. There, she passes 192 hours “in a haze of rosary, meetings, woodwork and work assignments”—feeding the chickens and cleaning the coop. She tries to connect with a Higher Power, but she doesn’t know who that Higher Power is. But one thing she does know: The role she must play to get out of that place is “Ms. Sanity.”
But staying clean is harder than she expects.
BRIGHT BURNING THINGS is a scared-straight story written in powerful prose that sucks readers into the addiction abyss along with Sonya.
Read the rest of my article in The Big Thrill.