Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman
Published by Random House
Publication date: February 4, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Memoir, Non-fiction
Last week I shared a review first for me. Today I’m back with another one: Smacked is my third 5-star nonfiction book in 2020. At the halfway point of the year? That’s nuts. You know me—I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, so to be reading it and to have it be outstanding is a delight at a time when finding delight is not easy.
Smacked is written by Eilene Zimmerman, a business and technology journalist. Her ex-husband Peter was an ambitious, driven, highly intelligent workaholic who craved success more than family life, leading to the break-up of their marriage. I can use “was” as Zimmerman discovers Peter’s body in the book’s prologue. From there she works her way backwards through their marriage, from their first meeting to their co-parenting of their children after the divorce. Along the way she shows a man who has less and less time for his children, due to his job and increasing health issues. Peter tells her his weight loss, irritability, and almost constant flu symptoms are due to a thyroid problem. She’s positive it’s a heart attack that killed him. Right up until the medical examiner tells her it was almost certainly a drug overdose. Her Cornell graduate, former chemist, now high-powered attorney, ex-husband is dead in his 2-million-dollar home from drugs. Her worldview and belief in her own judgment is shattered.
The first half of Smacked is solely Zimmerman’s personal story, which is compelling enough, but when she applies her journalistic expertise to the larger topic, it’s eye-opening. In the book’s second half she researches substance abuse and mental health issues in the legal field, as well as finance, medicine, and technology. It’s at this point that my implicit biases exploded. Highly educated, wealthy professionals don’t get addicted to and die from drugs. Maybe creative types like writers and artists, but how could someone who was a chemist—who knew exactly what chemicals do in the human body do them? Well, he did and they do. The intelligence often leads them down a path of trying to harness drugs to perform better and longer. We’re not talking about popping a Xanax or doing cocaine at a party. We’re talking about meth, heroin, and prescription drugs in a crazy cocktail on a daily basis that seems impossible.
Sadly, it’s not and it’s a growing problem. In the younger generation, graduates who have been using Adderall in increasing amounts to get through college don’t stop when they’re trying to prove themselves in competitive fields. Then, something else is needed to help you sleep. It’s dizzying, vicious cycle and occurring on a scale that’s growing exponentially. As in Peter’s case, it works, until it doesn’t.
I listened to Smacked and was so drawn in I could not stop. I hate to use the term addictive, but it is. The details Zimmerman unearths—much like what she finds when she has to dismantle Peter’s life after his death—are surreal and appalling. Whatever you pictured as a junkie will be completely redrawn after reading this book.
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