At one point in the riveting Losing Everything, author David Lozell Martin reveals that he "had to write this book to understand how I could have made so little progress in forty-five years." Readers usually don't find such a sentence in a memoir, which some authors use as an excuse to take a victory lap. Martin doesn't do that. Maybe it's because even before he put a gun to his head in the hopes of ending his personal and professional freefall, there wasn't much time for celebrating.

Before losing his wife, his money and his home, Martin grew up with an abusive father who had a murderous distrust of his wife. Martin's mother was far from a stabilizing influence herself, spending time in a mental hospital and even inviting 14-year-old David to have sex with her. Martin, thankfully, left home, working at steel mills to pay for college. He sabotaged his first marriage by writing nonstop and devoting his free time to drinking and philandering. By the time he married his beloved second wife, his future as a lucrative full-time novelist looked bright. The couple handled the prosperity poorly, as their "contempt" for money had a devastating effect: "When the successful years came to a close, we didn't have the sense or courage to live poor again," he writes.

Obviously, he pulled himself out of the abyss and found his way to stability, but the redemptive narrative isn't what carries the book; it's Martin's brutal honesty in evaluating his life and his relationships. His refreshing penchant for straight talk keeps you reading, even when you're dreading the consequences of his choices.

Martin comes across as a regular guy who has made some awful decisions, but he accepts the blame without whining or compromise and thus earns our respect. The later chapters of Losing Everything have Martin espousing life lessons and remembering the dead, sections which seem to be lifted from a different book by a cheerier author. Still, you can't help but smile, because despite his earlier assertion, Martin has made progress.

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