Dear Alcohol, by Sandra Lee is one of those rare books that contests the notion you've read or seen it all.
This tight knit narrative tells the story of a Massachusetts family living under the siege of an abusive step father in the late 70's. The characters are few and exceptionally well rendered: Joan, an emotionally weak mother, her hitherto happy tween daughter, Emily, her stalwart younger brother, Jason, Oscar the alcoholic step father and his two offspring, a Marty, a male in his late teens and his 15 year old daughter, Marsha. The story opens with both families coming together to share a life of happiness but quickly evolves into a unrelenting horror. Psychological terror, beatings, torture, rape and animal abuse abound.
To be fair, there are some light hearted moments, but they only serve as foil to the undeniable carnage that prevails throughout the narrative. The attempts by Emily and Jason to lead a normal life is heartwarming. Its amazing how forgiving kids can be. Time and again they bestow and renew trust to Oscar, only to have goodwill consistently shattered.
Dear Alcohol is Ms. Lee's second novel and shows a quantum leap in her writing. The prose is fast paced, the dialog crisp and the events sparkle with electricity. Too often more experienced writers overwrite and lose the reader in details that crimp and deflate a story. In Dear Alcohol, her journeyman novel, Ms. Lee has found the sweet spot of fluidity and the ability to make a story breathe freely and resonate profoundly.
Dear Alcohol is not for the weak of heart and unless one has had similar experiences, one may doubt all this could really happen. Perhaps that is the most disturbing part. No one could make all this up.