Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor on drinking, Irish or otherwise

Iain Glen, as Jack Taylor.
Iain Glen, as Jack Taylor.

From Holden Caulfield to Moses Herzog to Bruce Robinson, much of the best literature has been narrated by malcontents — Alcoholic narrative seems to attract more than few of them.

Jack London’s John Barleycorn,

Reading Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series is like learning to laugh at alcoholism, something I started doing when my own father hit the sauce with piss and vinegar. I was laughing along with W.C. Fields while hiding from my father’s ass-welting right hand.

Usually I don’t fuck with whiskey. No ice, no water, straight as an angel. – Jack Taylor, in Ken Bruen’s The Killing of the Tinkers, p. 44


Father Malachy to Jack on the fate of Father Gerald,

“[He was] a dipsomaniac, a rummy, a soak – like you, actually.’ … The man was brilliant, … But something happened. There was talk of an exorcism, but I don’t put any stock in that. Like you, he was just feckless, pissed it all away. Alkies, you can’t save them, they’re the Devil’s own.’ (pp. 248-249, Priest, Ken Bruen)

“I came as close to weeping in the street as I’ve ever been. You do that in Ireland and they think, ‘He started early.’” (p. 253, Priest)

Jameson Irish Whiskey
Jameson Irish Whiskey

Jack’s invited by an old friend to join him “for a jar.” They went into a pub Jack didn’t frequent, but ‘the problem is I know too many of the regulars, not a good idea for an alkie.” They sit down, “Bobby ordered two pints of stout, Jameson chasers, and I decided to let the day go to ruin.” “yet again, I didn’t ouch the booze, just stared at it. As he leaves the pub, “[he] looked at the untouched drink I was leaving behind. No doubt, I was seriously in need of treatment.” (pp. 255-258, Priest)

Jack runs into Trade, the barman at Coyle’s,

“It was like running into a vampire at noon. His face had the mottle of the habitual drinker. He was wearing a black tie, white shirt, black pants, looked almost respectable till you met the eyes and saw the faded life.” (p. 260, Priest)

After learning of the death of Father Gerald, Jack …

“[t]ried to find some prayer. A wino approached and I gave him ten euro, felt that was the best prayer of all.” (p. 262, Priest)

On Sister Mary Joseph’s love of ice cream,

“I guess if you forsake all other pleasures, what remains contains the heat of all the others.” (p. 275, Priest)

… the same goes for alcohol.

On books and reading,

Jack: “I caught a bad bout of flu. I’m not saying it was connected to reading poetry, but books are dangerous, ask any redneck.” (p. 279, Priest)

On the medicinal effects of booze,

“The whiskey hit my stomach like a rocket. Felt the blood rush to my face, knew I’d have an instant barroom tan. [and then]  A glow rose from my guts, up through my chest, and I felt the ease. A few seconds later and I could life the pint with one hand, no tremor.” (p. 234, The Killing of the Tinkers)

On recovery narrative,

“I get stuck on Lawrence Block; have to speed-read him as Matt Scudder, his hero, speak at length about recovery from alcoholism. Thin ice at its thinnest. Worse, at one stage, he describes the difference between and an alcoholic and a junkie.” (p. 223, The Killing of the Tinkers)

On mixing alcohol and family life,

” … to participate in family life you have to make room for others. Too, I’d mastered the art of sabotage. to paraphrase Oscar, each alcoholic destroys the image he craves. I wanted to be able to get drunk when I wanted and read till dawn if I wanted and wasn’t able to make the jump to forgo such things for the sake of company. And yet, now I yearned to … sit in the warmth of family and just be easy.” (p. 155, The Killing of the Tinkers)

On the unique natures of alcoholics,

“Alkies have to be the strangest animals on the planet, … a walking contradiction.” (p. 91, The Killing of the Tinkers)

On Kris Kristofferson,

“[He] wrote the best lines of drinking despair … If you really listen to ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, it’s the alky anthem. Particularly when you get the smell of someone frying chicken. That’s close to the loneliest line I’ve heard.  London, wet Sunday afternoon, the pubs are shut, you’re battling that wind off Ladbroke Grove and, for an instant, a whiff of a home-cooked meal. You are seriously fucked.” (p. 92, The Killing of the Tinkers)

Robin Redbreast Whiskey
Robin Redbreast Whiskey

On his Mother’s Christmas cake,

“I was drinking Robin Redbreast. Christ, if that isn’t a blast from the fifties. My father would have a glass with his slice of Christmas cake. God knows, as my mother baked it, you’d need all the help available. He was a good man. My mother was a walking bitch, then and now.” (p. 65, The Killing of the Tinkers)


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