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The Night of the Gun


David Carr was an addict for more than twenty years -- first dope, then coke, then finally crack -- before the prospect of losing his newborn twins made him sober up in a bid to win custody from their crack-dealer mother. Once recovered, he found that his recollection of his 'lost' years differed -- sometimes radically -- from that of his family and friends. The night, for example, his best friend pulled a gun on him. 'No,' said the friend (to David's horror, as a lifelong pacifist), 'It was you that had the gun.'

Using all his skills as an investigative reporter, he set out to research his own life, interviewing everyone from his parents and his ex-partners to the policemen who arrested him, the doctors who treated him and the lawyers who fought to prove he was fit to have custody of his kids.

Unflinchingly honest and beautifully written, the result is both a shocking account of the depths of addiction and a fascinating examination of how -- and why -- our memories deceive us. As David says, we remember the stories we can live with, not the ones that happened.

This reading group guide for Night of the Gun includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

“You remember the story you can live with, not the one that happened.”

In The Night of the Gun, David Carr, a renowned journalist for the New York Times, uses his reporting acuity to construct a memoir of his life:  a sordid, harrowing tale of a drug addict attempting to reestablish some sense of his humanity.  Through a series of setbacks and mishaps, David transforms from a privileged suburban kid into a hardened crack addict with a criminal record, and ultimately winds up a successful journalist and father of three.  However, it isn’t just David telling the story.

Admitting the fickle nature of memory (especially that of a self proclaimed drug-addled maniac), David uses a slew of primary sources—video interviews with friends and family, medical records, newspaper clippings, and photographs—to retrace the lost years of his life, and to reconcile his own recollection of his journey through drugs, cancer, and single fatherhood.  Self deprecating and articulate, Carr tracks his own narrative while simultaneously using his loved ones to set the record straight.  With wit and candor, Carr retraces his life, and finds that much like the fabled Night of the Gun (a reference to an unclear incident during his most intense drug use), what he remembers and what actually happened are not always one and the same


Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss the nature of memory and the way it transforms throughout the book.  Re-read Chapter 53 (“We accessorize the memory with the present tense”) and cite examples throughout the story where memory served as a function for the present, as the remembered event turned out to be much different from what actually occurred.  Does it matter who had the gun?

2. Compare and contrast the positive and negative forces in his life—from drug buddies to Fast Eddie to the unnamed New York Times bigwig).
3. How did the use of epigraphs affect the reading of each chaptery?  Which do you feel correlated most directly with David’s life? 

4. Talk about the nature of illness throughout the book—from his numerous addictions to his unfortunate ailments. Which affliction do you think cause the greatest amount of deterioration in his life?  Are his addictions “curable?”  Are his cancer and medical complications stronger demons?  Are both unavoidable?
5. Whose interview was the most poignant?  Marion?  Anna?  The twins?  Which primary sources gave you the clearest picture of David’s past?  Was the power in their truthful account, or did it lie within their connection to David?  

6. How did you feel about David’s relapse into alcoholism after years of sobriety?  What do you think drew him back to alcohol?  Did you see it coming?  Discuss his description of addiction as a “pirate,” or a “guy doing pushups in the basement, ready to come out at any time.”

7. Do you agree that David was justified in seeking and gaining custody of Erin and Meghan?  As you were reading, did you question his motivations?  In light of the twins’ interviews at the book’s close, how did the birth of the twins affect his life?  Did they save him?  Did he save them? 

8. Can you cite a single major mistake or poor choice that David made as grounds for his descent?  If the instance with the twins in the car is his redemptive, revelatory moment, what are the moments that lead to his downward spiral?  Is it just a collection of pratfalls?

9. Discuss David’s romances and trysts.  Consider Doolie, Anna, Jill, and any others that he was briefly involved with.  Track how David’s love life has evolved since his time as a user.  What do you make of his admittance of abuse?  How do you feel about his marriage to Jill?

10. In Chapter 49, David states, “If memoir is an attempt to fashion the self through narrative, dreams simply reverse the polarity on the same imperative.  The future is even more fungible than the past.”  Given that, what do you see for David Carr’s future?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Visit and peruse the pictures, documents and videos that David often references in the book.  Do the testimonies and back stories affect you differently when served through different media?  Do they enrich the story in the book?  Discuss the narrative within the context of the website versus that of the book.

2. Sit at your computer and go through the various photos, videos, and other mementos collected from your life.  See if you can map a story through non-literary media alone.  Attempt to make a photo sequence of your personal evolution, and share your results.
3. In the same vein, write a brief account of an event in your life, and interview a loved one or someone close to you about that same incident.  See how the stories match up, how memory informs itself, and how personal narrative becomes shaped.  Are there conflicting ideas of the past between you and the other person?  Try it with a few subjects and share your results. 
4. Visit and read the review/interview with Carr.  Does an interview apart from the book have any effect on the content within?  Do other mediums and reportages continue to reframe the story and the “fungible nature of memory?”
5. Read a few similar drug-related memoirs (for example, Augusten Burrough’s Dry and Frey’s much-maligned A Million Little Pieces).  How do they compare when held against Night of the Gun?  Discuss the different constructions of memoir, their similarities, and their weaknesses/strengths.
Photo Credit:

David Carr was a reporter and the “Media Equation” columnist for The New York Times. Previously, he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine and was editor of the Twin Cities Reader in Minneapolis. The author of the acclaimed memoir, The Night of the Gun, he passed away in February 2015.

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (December 11, 2012)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471108426

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