Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Wednesday, December 9, 2020: Maximum Shelf: Leave Out the Tragic Parts

PublicAffairs: Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction by Dave Kindred

PublicAffairs: Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction by Dave Kindred

PublicAffairs: Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction by Dave Kindred

PublicAffairs: Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction by Dave Kindred

Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction

by Dave Kindred

Heartbreaking and eye-opening, Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction is award-winning journalist Dave Kindred's (Sound and Fury) memoir about the devastating impacts of alcoholism, the indominable spirit of a boy born to wander, and the ways love both blinds and allows unconditional understanding.

When Kindred received the news--"Jared died"--about his grandson, he wept. He had lost a boy he'd known since birth and a young man he hadn't known at all--one who went by "Goblin" and hopped trains, wandering the U.S. as a "travelin' kid." At Jared's funeral, Kindred met some of his grandson's traveling companions--"road dogs"--and listened to them reminisce. "The best time of my life," one named Maggie said. "Goblin was everywhere's sunshine," said a girl named Aggro. And so, they spurred the difficult work that would culminate in Kindred's Leave Out the Tragic Parts.

Kindred lived across from his son's family for much of Jared's childhood. Jared gave him "a second chance of sorts at fatherhood"; as a sports columnist, Kindred had rarely been home to spend time with his son. But after several relocations, his parents' "nasty divorce," and being separated from his twin brother, Jared began drinking. He was 13 years old. Two years later, he confessed to being an alcoholic. "We let it pass, though," Kindred remembers, "because what could a fifteen-year-old know about being an alcoholic?"

After high school, Jared was gone, living life on the road. He hopped his first trains with a 17-year-old calling herself Stray Falldowngoboom, and the two drank "a lake's worth of vodka" as they traveled 2,000 miles to New Orleans. And it would be to this city, with its "orgies of liquid and flesh," that he was drawn following a hospital stay for alcohol withdrawal. "The addiction demanded to be fed," Kindred explains. After numerous, increasingly concerning hospital stays, Jared's mother posed what should have been a sobering question: "Do you want to be buried or cremated?"

Engrossing in its careful construction, Kindred's part-memoir, part-biography moves between defining moments in Jared's and Kindred's lives. Kindred recalls his own role in Jared's life as Goblin--chatting about naked girls, wiring him money, urging him to quit drinking--and effectively intertwines his personal history into the narrative. He ties regrets about his deceased father to his drive to honor his dead grandson, connecting his mother's kindness toward hoboes to Jared's path, and recognizing his own "wanderer's instinct" in his grandson.

Goblin's tale unfolds via his road dogs, sometimes in their own words but primarily through Kindred's first-rate, passionate storytelling. Though an unrelenting love guides his reporting, the gut-punching power behind each page lies in its unfiltered truth. In a vulnerable and admirable approach, Kindred wields his renowned journalistic perspective, sidestepping the story he'd prefer to tell--the one with the tragic parts left out--to reconstruct every step that led to his grandson's death at age 25.

Kindred's desire to elucidate the realities of addiction fuels his stirringly honest prose. Startling scenes reveal the desperation alcohol bred in Jared--sleeping with vodka beside him to keep DTs at bay, trying to drink his own urine while detoxing because he thought it contained alcohol, walking through a hurricane to seek "immediate relief from withdrawal." Citing experts on drug abuse and mental health, Kindred takes a clear stance that addiction is a disease. "It literally rewires your brain," he notes. "The substance owned him."

Though his family knew Jared was losing a battle, their varied attempts to help couldn't match the strength of his opponent. "He wasn't Jared anymore," his twin told Kindred, one impetus for Kindred's adamancy about heeding early warning signs. After his stepmother convinced him to enter rehab, Jared backed out at the last minute. "The addict says it all to make everyone feel better, to give everyone hope, to give himself hope," Kindred says, highlighting how even caring family cannot change an addict's mind, both because addicts view "the substance as a nutrient" and because loved ones want to believe "something good" can course-correct them.

But through it all, Jared "never put the substance above friends." Uplifting words from his road dogs add a brightness and paint a vivid portrait of an endearing young man. They describe his tenderness: how they could nuzzle against his chest, how he prevented their dehydration by finding prickly pear cactuses, how he helped a lost kid in New Orleans, how he kept an injured hobo from killing himself. They laud his chivalrous, charismatic, "train-hopping Jesus" nature. "He made my heart light with laughter and love," says one friend. "Goblin was a soul that was meant to just keep going," says another. Maggie, who would have married Jared in a "heartbeat," calls him the "happiest guy [she'd] ever seen."

With compelling reporting and emotional interviews, Kindred invites readers into Goblin's world of despair and sunshine. Leave Out the Tragic Parts is impossible to forget. It is an enduring saga of a remarkable life--one that will instill empathy for victims of addiction, foster understanding of homeless individuals, and inspire awe at how strongly one young man could touch so many hearts. --Samantha Zaboski

PublicAffairs, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9781541757066, February 2, 2021

PublicAffairs: Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction by Dave Kindred

Dave Kindred: Written from My Heart, Not My Notebook

(photo: Vicki Taufer)

Dave Kindred is a recipient of the PEN America ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, the Red Smith Award and the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting. He has worked for numerous publications, including the Washington Post,the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the National Sports Daily. He is the author of several books, including Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship, a biography of the friendship between Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell. In Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction (PublicAffairs, February 2, 2021), Kindred pieces together his late grandson's life as a train-hopper battling alcoholism.

Writing this book was a difficult process--one that took six years. How did you manage your grief while keeping the wound of losing Jared open?

The wound was never going to be closed. There would be healing but not forgetting. The process was interrupted midway by my wife's catastrophic stroke that left her an invalid who cannot communicate. So the grieving was overlapping, and I always dealt with it best by escaping into the work that kept them both alive in my mind and heart.

Though it might be easy to imagine a "happy ending" for Jared--a family life with Maggie--it seems his heart wanted a wanderer's life. How much of this do you think was influenced by alcohol?

Whatever resistance he had to a "normal" life was the result of a dysfunctional early family life and was exacerbated by the alcohol. I'm told by the experts that alcoholics drink to "change the way they feel." That, Jared did.

The book's title is in part a nod to how addicts and their loved ones tell themselves the story they'd rather hear. Yet you've shared difficult truths from Jared's friends--road dogs--who were, perhaps, closest to him. Why were their perspectives not as rose-colored?

They knew the tragic parts because they had lived them, and they knew there was no escaping them. They had lived a life on the road that was unforgiving. They had seen dozens of friends die out there. They had seen death up close, and they knew it was coming for them.

The beach scene when Jared writes BOOZE in the sand for the water to wash away as his one regret seems the loudest cry for help he gave. Yet even then, it seemed he knew it would be impossible to escape alcohol's hold. What do you hope this scene accomplishes for readers who love someone battling addiction?

I knew about this only after his death (as is true of many scenes in the book). What I hope a reader takes away is recognition that, absolutely, such a moment is a cry for help that must be answered and not allowed to dissipate in the next wave of life. Instead of walking off the beach, talk to him, tell him what the moment is saying, take him to help.

Your research into addiction taught you that "Jared didn't choose addiction; addiction chose Jared."

Not for a minute, ever, did I think that Jared wanted to be an alcoholic. That BOOZE moment shows that. He was a happy, joyful child, always with a hand out to people who needed help. Research has shown that some brains are more susceptible to addiction than others; Jared, it seems, was easily addicted because alcohol "chose" him.

Jared had his family's support while on the road, and you note, "if sending money made me an enabler, so be it." What would you say to someone who would hold your family accountable for not forcing Jared into rehab?

I would say, if there comes a time when you think you must force a person into rehab, it is already too late. The addict must choose to help himself. You must be alert to the early signs; they are always there, and you must act on them immediately.

Seeing Jared as a high school senior with his multicolored mohawk, you felt you didn't know this "flamboyant" Jared, yet you considered him "extraordinary." Why did you view this new Jared positively instead of thinking the worst?

As a grandfather seeing Jared only occasionally and at a distance in his high school years (because of his parents' divorce), I didn't recognize his alcoholism. I counted him as another teenager learning to live--the usual teenage experiments and rebellions. His life as Goblin was almost completely unknown to me until it was irreversible.

What you write about Jared and his road dogs is in part an effort to humanize a community--to make readers consider the human being beneath the dirt and grime of homelessness. Why did you focus on this?

My best friend in life had never met Jared, had only seen pictures. Yet he said if he saw Jared coming toward him on a sidewalk, he'd cross the street to get away from him. He judged him to be a threat from afar, knowing only his appearance, reacting to a stereotype.

But Jared was a sweetheart, open to all comers and generous in spirit. He wanted to share the joy he felt with others of his kind--with other wanderers looking for the soft places in life. Oh, he could be belligerent, as my reporting showed, but almost always, his anger was directed in defense of friends.

By rendering Jared and his road dogs as human beings with a full range of emotions and values, I hope that some readers, on meeting a "Jared" figure, will stand and talk with him a while, maybe learn from him.

What would you say to someone considering a life as a train-hopper?

A friend once asked me to talk to his son about train-hopping. He wanted me to scare the boy straight. That, of course, is easily done. A travelin' kid's life is 0.01% "freedom" and "romance," and the rest is dangerous in ways incomprehensible to most of us. And the understood dangers--of drugs and violence and simple neglect of your body--are compounded by the unforgiving dangers involved in catching a freight train. I met a guy named Dice. He'd lost an arm trying to rescue his dog from under the wheel of a train. As I was writing Jared's story, word came that Dice had lost a leg under another train. I told my friend's son, "However dangerous you think riding a freight train is, multiply by a thousand."

Why should fans of your sports writing read this story?

Anyone who has read my stuff on sports knows it's more about the people and their ideas, ambitions and values than it is about the games. This book is a story about people I have loved in ways I never imagined loving anyone. Whatever readers may have liked in my reporting and writing on, say, Muhammad Ali, they will find in Jared's story, only written from my heart, not my notebook. --Samantha Zaboski

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