Book Review #20: “Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood”


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“I’d written Smashed not because I was ambitious and not because writing down my feelings was cathartic (it felt more like playing one’s own neurosurgeon sans anesthesia). No. I’d made a habit–and eventually a profession–of memoir because I hail from one of those families where shows of emotions are discouraged.”
Koren Zailckas, Fury: A Memoir

Like other books that I’ve reviewed on the blog, I picked up this book in a thrift store. I can’t remember when, but I was drawn to it almost immediately.

This is one of those books that I will keep forever. I think I first read it in high school, but it’s been a good one to re-read.

Koren takes us through her journey with alcohol. She started drinking at age 14, and stopped at 23. I applaud her courage to attain sobriety!

Three words come to mind when I think of her writing: Raw, unapologetic, and real.

Reading this book in high school, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, when I go off to college, I won’t be like that. I won’t go crazy and drink a lot. I might join a sorority, but I’ll be careful.”

Oh, high school Laura Beth. You ate your words.

Let’s back up a bit. I was raised in a family that always had beer and wine in the fridge. Dad usually drank a beer every night after work. Mom enjoyed a glass of wine most nights.

I had my first sip of beer at age 10 in my parents’ kitchen. I was curious, and Dad said I could taste it. Mom was appalled. It was one sip of Natural Light, and it almost made me puke. Despite Mom getting upset, I’m glad that Dad gave me that chance, because after that I told myself I didn’t want to taste that again until I was 21. (In college, I instantly recognized the true nickname of “Nasty Light,” although most frats had it on hand because it was super cheap).

I was allowed small amounts of wine before I turned 21 in the presence of Mom / Dad. It made feel good, and I started to understand how Dad having a beer was a method of relaxation and unwinding after a hard day’s work.

When I first went off to college, alcohol was not on my personal radar. The school was/is very strict about alcohol, with a three-strike policy and education courses if violations occurred. Plus, I knew Mom and Dad were footing most of the bills, and I didn’t want to jeopardize any of that.

However, under the influence of John for three of my four college years, alcohol was involved. My university has a bit of reputation as a party school, being in a small-ish town, and a good majority of students are in sororities and fraternities.

I remember re-reading Smashed at least twice while in college, once before I joined Alpha Sigma Tau (AST), and once afterward. It was a striking experience, to say the least. Through Koren’s words, I started to realize how sororities, fraternities, and alcohol mixed and blended together.

I went to several fraternity parties during my four years in school, before and after turning 21, and before and after joining AST. (I turned 21 in August 2009, and joined AST that fall.) As I got older, however, I realized that I didn’t need alcohol to be sociable. Eventually, I started to feel immense disgust at these parties because everyone was getting drunk, wasted, and being incredibly stupid. It was unattractive. I usually remained sober so that I could keep an eye on my younger sisters and make sure no one got into serious trouble. It was embarrassing.

Throughout my college experience, I learned a few things along the way:

  • Liquor is cheap, and it’s super sweet.
  • I’m definitely a lightweight.
  • I never truly blacked out at all, but there was one sorority party where I was asked to leave (I learned later it was mainly because of the friends with me, and not me personally), and I passed out cold in my bed. I woke up 12 hours later.
  • I was the designated driver for one Saturday night for AST as a senior, and I vowed to never do it again. Seeing several of my sisters wasted was something I did not want to see.
  • I can clearly see the attraction to alcohol, and it almost makes me sick.

Now, nearly six years removed from college, I can clearly see a culture of alcohol. Not only at my university, but at most other colleges and universities across the U.S. It’s tough to swallow.

Sure, going away to college is a rite of passage, and alcohol is usually involved at some point for nearly every student.

However, I don’t like the idea of getting drunk. To me, it’s sloppy and irresponsible. Also, too many innocent people get hurt or die every day because of drunk or intoxicated drivers.

I do drink, but only occasionally. Alcohol is expensive, and I rarely justify having it in our house. Al doesn’t drink, and that’s been a great thing for me. I usually indulge during parties or social events, but I always have Al drive. If I do drink, I make sure that I eat plenty of food and have water with me. Alcohol does relax me, but I believe that I know my limits.

I like certain beers and usually don’t discriminate with wine, but I stay clear (run away almost) from the liquor and mixed drinks – Too many painful college memories. Plus, it’s too sweet for me.

Reading Koren’s words at age 28 was also a different experience. I’m glad that I’ve read this book multiple times. It’s made me reflect on different aspects of my life, and how I’m grateful that my own drinking has never truly spiraled out of control. However, I’m glad that Koren had the courage to write this book, tell her story, and help others. I’m glad that she has achieved sobriety, and that she is a successful writer.

Koren’s memoir is one that will always be relevant to me, even though it was published 10 years ago. She’s a gifted writer, and I look forward to reading Fury: A Memoir some day soon.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

9 thoughts on “Book Review #20: “Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood”

  1. I commuted to college, so I never really had the “away from home for the first time so go crazy” college experience. The one time I went into the dorms to visit a friend (who didn’t even go to my school… or any school…), I saw a lot of drugs. I was really glad I commuted.

    Still, I had my own bout with drinking. I used to go to karaoke 6-7 nights a week, & it usually took place at a bar so it was accessible.

    I’ll admit – I did many things of which I’m not proud. Including drinking & driving, even though I’m so against it I’ve called the cops on a drunk friend who wanted to drive (when I was under 21). 😳

    Now, much like you, I have a totally different view on drinking. Personally, I can’t do it at all. But, I think watching drunk people is amusing. They’re so ridiculous!! & I’ve reverted back to my pre-21 view on drunk driving – no tolerance.

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