Beauty as inspiration

James’s first recollection of beauty is of his most recent ex-girlfriend, a girl with long blonde hair and “Arctic blue” eyes. She was a student at his college. We never hear much about her, though, except in bits and pieces, and we never even learn her name. At best, we have a very abstract picture of her beauty. She sounds like every man’s image of the perfect woman: tall and blonde. However, Lilly, who James outright proclaims is beautiful enough to make him forget what he wanted to say, is almost a polar opposite of the Girl with the Arctic Eyes. Lilly is scrawny, wears badly fitting clothing, sports scars and a cheap plastic watch on her wrist, and has black hair. Even the two girls’ eye color is nearly in opposition: Lilly’s eyes are watery blue, not a hard, icy blue. However, both are beautiful to James, and both types of beauty have their own unique hold on him.

Likewise, James is struck many times by the beauty of a winter storm, the landscape that’s just outside the clinic doors, and, at one point , his last breakfast at the clinic. In striking contrast to beauty, and its capability to assume the many forms that help James out of various slumps, is ugliness, and its opposite effect on James: seeing Lilly in the ugliness of the crack house reflects a place that James has been and doesn’t want to be in ever again. And seeing an ugly new arrival at the clinic who’s clearly an addict with an ugly attitude only reminds James of the fact that once, not long ago, James could see himself reflected in that very ugliness.

The Fury

The Fury is the name James uses to refer to his anger, his addiction, and his self-destructive impulses. Throughout most of the book, the Fury rules James. It compels him to lash out or avoid others, to consume massive amounts of drugs and alcohol, and to destroy all that is good in his life. Early on in James’s stay at the clinic, the Fury is uncontrollable and nearly insatiable: he replaces his urge to consume drugs and alcohol with food, and he has a violent run-in with a fellow patient. As time goes on, James becomes more aware that he must beat the Fury, and that if he does not learn to control it, it will kill him. One way James controls it is through his relationship with Lilly. He replaces his addiction for drugs and alcohol with love for her.

When James’s parents come to the clinic to take part in the Family Program against his wishes, the Fury rises in James. But he realizes that this is more selfish anger than anything, because after their arrival, James and his parents make remarkable progress. Although his parents leave the program early and the Fury rises, it does not manifest itself in any compulsive behavior or violent action. The truly telling point, though, is at the end of the book, when James orders a pint glass of whiskey to test the Fury, to see if he’s strong enough to fight his addictive urges. Even though the power of the Fury is almost unbearably strong as he stares at and smells the whiskey, James is able to overcome it and have the bartender pour the glass down the drain.