book reviews

Review of Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir, by Lisa F. Smith

Once again, I’m reviewing a book I bought several years ago and just got around to reading. I purchased Lisa F. Smith’s 2016 book, Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir back in September 2016, and it was sitting in my Kindle, collecting virtual dust all this time. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it, because not only have I finally gotten what I paid for, but I think it’s a hell of a book.

The Jewish daughter of a judge and a housewife, Lisa Smith has always been an overachiever. She got straight As in school, attended Northwestern University, and got a law degree at Rutgers University. After law school, she got a job at an international law firm in New York City and worked her ass off. Interspersed between her working hours, Lisa drank… and drank… and drank. She also snorted cocaine. The cocaine would perk her up after a long evening sucking down booze. The alcohol would help numb her to the pain of untreated major depression.

Lisa had a lot of friends… drinking buddies, who would join her on her benders. She attended a lot of parties put on by the law firm where she worked. She’d wake up feeling parched and nauseated, hands shaking from alcohol withdrawal, mind racing from whatever embarrassing incident might have happened while she was under the influence. She’d have a drink in the morning to settle her nerves, then snort some blow to help her look energized when she had to give presentations at work. When she finally showed up to detox at a locked psychiatric ward at a hospital called Gracie Square, Lisa was on the verge of drinking herself to death. Her friends were supportive… or, at least most of them were at first.

The trip to the hospital is where Lisa starts her story of overcoming addiction. She’d called her doctor, panicked and realizing that she was in real trouble. Even her doctor told her she was “fine”, until Lisa told him about her habits and that she’d been shitting blood. He recommended a hospital in Hell’s Kitchen, which Lisa vetoed out of hand. Then he recommended Gracie Square, which was in a more familiar neighborhood. Lisa called and was told to show up before eleven o’clock. When she arrived, she was told that by signing herself in, she would be required to stay for 72 hours. She agreed, until she saw the “detox” floor, where there were people fighting and yelling at each other. Because she was so scared, Lisa was allowed to stay on the “Asian” floor, on which all of the patients and staff were Asians.

Then, as she finally settles in with some Librium, Lisa goes back to the beginning of her story and explains how it all began. Apparently, Lisa’s childhood helped set her up for addiction to booze and cocaine. She’d had a food addiction, the caused her to get fat. She was teased in school, and a pediatrician told her that if she didn’t stop eating, she’d be big as a house. Lisa’s breasts got huge, so when she was in college, she visited a plastic surgeon who said she would reduce them if Lisa lost thirty pounds. She lost the weight, became “hot”, and started being noticed by men. She drank for courage. She drank to feel sexy and confident, or to forget her problems. It seems to me, this was when she started drinking habits that would land her in rehab.

She runs into a fellow lawyer from Pennsylvania, also a drinker. He’s Catholic. She’s Jewish. They hook up one night after a drinking session, start dating, and get married, seemingly on a whim. The marriage is a disaster, as she hates Pittsburgh and realizes they don’t have enough in common. The depression comes crashing down, augmented by the alcoholism. She goes back to New York City and picks up where she left off… back on the booze train.

Much of Girl Walks out of a Bar consists of Lisa’s stories about being drunk, a few of which are pretty funny. I had a good laugh when she describes being two drinks in when a date turns out to mostly be a teetotaler. She proceeded to get very drunk and high, landed in a heap on the floor, and was “helped” roughly into a taxi. Naturally, she never saw that guy again. Then there was the neighbor, “Mark”, who sort of befriends her. He’s younger than she is and lives in her building. They seem to be starting a relationship of some kind– more like, he wants it and she doesn’t. She kind of kicks him out when he suggests she might need rehab, but then he turns out to be a good friend to her as she gets sober. I felt a little sorry for him, since she seemed to use him somewhat.

Lisa Smith’s writing is witty and funny. She uses a lot of profanity, which some readers like and some don’t. Personally, I like a few good cuss words, especially when they’re liberally sprinkled in funny stories. My one complaint about this book is the way it wraps up. The author doesn’t share much about her journey to sobriety or her struggles staying sober. She finishes detoxing and makes it clear that she won’t be attending a 28 day residential treatment due to her work commitments and the lies she told to get a few days off for detox. Next thing you know, she’s going to A.A. meetings and getting her 90 day chip. She doesn’t share much about how she managed to fight temptation. Her writing about her sobriety is surprisingly less juicy than her writing about being a drunk and a cokehead, which makes the book seem off balance.

However… I still enjoyed reading Smith’s story, mainly because she seemed like someone I would enjoy knowing. She’s smart, funny, and very candid. Also… reading her story made me feel somewhat better about my own drinking habits. She was way worse than I’ve ever been… Basically, she spent ten solid years drunk every single day. It’s amazing that she was able to function, let alone work as a high powered corporate lawyer.

I have read better books about people with drinking problems. The late Caroline Knapp’s book, Drinking: A Love Story comes to mind. I also read Augusten Burrough’s book, Dry, which was one of those books that made me feel a wide range of emotions– from amusement to sadness. I think Girl Walks out of a Bar could have been better than it is. However, I’m glad I read Lisa Smith’s story, because ultimately, it’s a success story. It’s a fairly easy read that kept me engaged. If I were rating it on a scale of one to five, I think I’d give this book four stars. Had she expanded her story after she got sober– told us more about the struggle to stay away from booze and drugs, I could see giving her that fifth star.

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