Alcoholism would seem to be "the American writer's disease," observes Tom Dardis, noting that "of the seven native-born Americans awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, five were alcoholic." So pervasive is the affliction, Dardis comments, that "it seems reasonable to ask if some link exists between alcohol and creativity."
To pursue this question, Dardis examines the careers and drinking habits of four great American writers: Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and O'Neill. His argument is that while in the early stages the romance with alcohol seems to produce a sense of liberation and creativity, the long-term effects are pernicious. Of the four, only O'Neill discovered in time that the bottle would erode his writing talent. He quit drinking and in the ensuing decade of sobriety wrote some of his greatest work, "The Iceman Cometh" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night." In the other three writers, Dardis correlates the decline of their careers with the progression of their alcoholism.
This is not a cheerful book. Here are grim stories of friends' ministrations (director Howard Hawkes gave Faulkner credit on screenplays that never would have been written without a collaborator); the horrors of delirium tremens and various detoxification therapies (Hemingway and Faulkner underwent electroshock treatment); the terror that accompanied the realization that their writing suffered.