By the age of 23, Koren Zailckas was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning, blacked out during a sexual experience with a stranger and woke up in an unfamiliar apartment not knowing how she got there. This series of drunken calamities eventually lead her to re-evaluate herself and make a change. Unfortunately, occurrences like these aren’t extremely uncommon for college aged students. In the New York Times bestseller “Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood”, Koren Zailckas tells her story of a damaged adolescence due to an intimate rapport, although not an addiction, with alcohol. Taking readers through years of her relationship with alcohol, Zailckas tells her story of self discovery so poignantly and poetically that her story becomes eye-opening and deeply moving. A journey through high school, college and adulthood, Zailckastells honestly and unequivocally of black outs, regrets and indignities. Students knowing of the binge drinking scene at colleges will not find it difficult to relate to Zailckas’ story. She abused alcohol socially but was not an alcoholic. She abused drinking to a point that it affected her relationships with family and friends and tainted her selfimage. Self-described as shy and meek, Zailckas learns that alcohol helps her gain friends quickly and become the outgoing and popular girl she always wanted to be. Her style of writing is rhythmical and perceptive, as she describes her encounters with her new best friend: alcohol. She compares a shot of alcohol to gunshot.
“You throw back that little jigger of liquor with the same urgency with which a gun fires ammunition into open space. You feel the same ringing in your ears, the same kickback in your arms and chest. The first time you drink, you don’t aim to get drunk. The thrill of pulling the trigger is itself enough. If you like the crack of the rifle, you’ll be back for a second go, which is when you’ll pay attention to the crosshairs and fire enough shots to hit the mark.” Zailckas starts a cycle of drinking to get drunk. She tries to find friends who are like her new fascination; dangerous and defiant but whom other students desire as a friend.
Zailckas’ story is one of personal evolution. After a long and destructive relationship with alcohol, she begins a new way of life with relationships that aren’t based on getting drunk. She discovers a new self and becomes a confident woman who doesn’t need alcohol to be relaxed and outgoing. It feels as if a friend has changed for the better and a strong attachment is formed with Zailckas.
Her honesty to us, the readers, is appreciated because it is an opportunity to learn from her. She reveals her regrets and embarrassments as if we are a trusted friend and she is sharing her secrets over dinner at her place.
The false and shattered friendships built on a love of getting drunk, the confusing romances and drunken frenzies are illustrated in a way that the reader feels as if they went through these years with her.
Her self discovery without alcohol is a triumph for the reader and a bond is solidified between writer and reader. Zailckas could be a best friend, a sister, a daughter or any woman who has fallen into a habit of drunken oblivion. This is not a story just of alcohol abuse, but a story of a young woman’s coming of age and self-realization.