Given the recent run of memoirs whose astonishing exploits and lurid tales ended up being false, it's not surprising journalist David Carr takes extraordinary steps to ensure the credibility of his own shocking new work, The Night of the Gun. The book vividly details the New York Times media and business columnist's descent into drug addiction and the battle to recover from both that sickness and cancer. It also documents his fight to gain custody of his children, and his subsequent struggles as a parent.

Carr videotaped more than 60 interviews, and used both legal and medical records while employing a writing style that is far more essay/documentary than literary. He's not trying to wow or shock but rather to inform and warn, yet he injects enough humor and irony into his tale to keep the account from becoming overly detached. He also includes numerous ugly, unflattering revelations.

One example is the night a longtime friend finally pulls a gun on Carr, insisting he leave or get shot. In another section, Carr discusses his attempt to become a cocaine dealer. Both these segments and others show Carr hasn't sanitized his account, that he truly wants readers to understand how bad his life was during this period of more than three years.

But Carr's story doesn't neatly end: though he overcame his dependence on crack, he eventually had problems with alcohol. Nearly 14 years later, he was arrested twice more, and even spent a night in jail wearing a tuxedo, a bizarre situation that only compounded his anger and guilt over being in trouble once again. Carr finally understands that despite his love for his family, he's capable of slipping at any time - that knowledge accompanies everything he'll do the rest of his life.

The Night of the Gun brilliantly blends commentary, reflection, reporting, philosophy and outrage. It's among the most incisive, amazing and poignant memoirs you'll encounter, even if, as Carr himself says, you can't be certain every single word is true.

Ron Wynn writes for Nashville City Paper and other publications.

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