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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | BIOGRAPHY

IN THE OPEN Diary of a Homeless Alcoholic By Timothy Donohue; University of Chicago: 204 pp., $22.95

December 29, 1996|ALEC WILKINSON

Timothy Donohue is a gifted writer who has been seduced and harassed and hobbled and pained by a virulent addiction to alcohol. He is what was called a bum when I was a child. He often sleeps in culverts and ravines, on the rooftops of abandoned buildings, in cardboard boxes and in cold so severe that he says it sometimes makes him feel nauseated to emerge from the warmth of his covers. Even so, he has worked diligently for periods of time at laborious jobs, and he has written a book that can handsomely stand as a life's work.

"In the Open" covers the period in Donohue's life from February 1990 to December 1994. In this accounting, he works sporadically in a gold mine and in factories. He also travels a lot; there are entries from Las Vegas, Tucson, Los Angeles, St. Paul and parts of Hawaii. "I am staying in a hotel in Waikiki . . . I am very serious about this place. I can't afford to have bad memories in any place anymore because I am running out of places."

The subject matter of "In the Open" is strange and compelling, but what gives it the breath of life is that it was written by an artist. Books like this one are where the individual histories of our time are kept.

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