Review by Dale Singer
In this absorbing tale of a year spent treating a young woman addicted to the painkiller Vicodin, Dr. Michael Stein wastes no time distilling the complex, frustrating but often fulfilling relationship between a doctor and his patient.
When Lucy Fields first walked in to his office in Providence, R.I., and asked whether he had openings available, Stein recalls:
"'Yes, I do.' I answered, as if we were getting married, which in some sense we were; from that moment forward, our time together would, like any pair's, get snagged on expectations, hopes and fears, mixed with promise and excitement."
In "The Addict," Stein thoroughly examines and analyzes expectations, hopes, fears, promise, excitement and much more. He details his regular sessions with Lucy as she deals with all of the highs and lows you would expect from someone trying to get off drugs and not always having the easiest time doing it.
Along the way, he relates his experiences with other patients as well. Most absorbing, though, are Stein's ruminations on his own career, why he chose the specialty that he did and how working with addicts - with all the frustrations such a career brings - has affected how he considers his own life as well.
"Why does addiction intrigue me?" he asks early on, pondering his fascination with Lucy and others. "To be an addict requires a mental agility and a survivor's creativity that I admire. But there is more to it. I am interested in the opposite side of myself; I fear the appetite that would control me. This young woman, with her good home and professional parents, should have been a model citizen. What happened?"
Much of "The Addict" tries to answer that question, peeling back layers of Lucy's life that reveal why, at age 29, she is barely scraping by, having escaped her drug-abusing boyfriend and working at a pet store despite her education and family background.
Even though Stein has given her a way out of her Vicodin habit with the use of the substitute buprenorphine, both of them know that escaping the morass of addiction is not as simple as using one substance instead of another. And the story of the struggle can be strangely uplifting.
At one point, Stein puts it like this: "My heart has always leaped when anyone, in a movie or in my office, escapes - from poverty, from a bad marriage, from bad habits like Vicodin. I am an optimist. I believe in the saying, 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.'"
He experiences both failures and successes. The fight is hard, but he finds it worthwhile, and readers are likely to agree.