Koren Zailckas tasted alcohol for the first time at 14. She binge-drank through her years at Syracuse University. But unlike other members of the university’s party-hard student body, Zailckas turned those experiences into a memoir, Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, a blunt and honest exploration of her addiction to alcohol. “This may be one of the best accounts of addiction, let alone the college experience, or even what it means to be an average teenage girl in America who inexplicably hates herself,” wrote a reviewer in Entertainment Weekly. Many credit Zailckas’ memoir as being the first of the addiction genre to talk about how low self-esteem — rather than unbridled “girl power” — drove her to drink herself almost to death. At SU, Zailckas took a class with professor Mary Karr, an award-winning writer considered the mother of the memoir resurgence. Zailckas calls Karr a great influence, and Karr even wrote a book-jacket blurb for the young writer. After Smashed, Zailckas wrote Fury, a semi-sequel that dealt with her struggles with anger. Then she penned a novel Mother, Mother, which explores a family headed by a dysfunctional matriarch. She’s also written for publications such as The Guardian, U.S. News and World Report, Glamour, Jane, and Seventeen.
Here is an excerpt from Smashed:
“I think it’s no coincidence that a shot is called a shot. 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 go back for a second go, which is when you’ll pay attention to the crosshairs and fire enough shots to hit the mark.”
— Madison Flavin