Saved by storytelling : Donald Harington's Farther Along as a recovery narrative

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2011-05

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Despite a devoted cult following and high praise from a handful of reviewers, Donald Harington has received scant attention in the academic literature. Harington (1935-2009) published 14 novels, most of them centered around the fictional Ozark hamlet of Stay More, Arkansas. Because he wrote mostly about a single town and because his novels contain a folkloric magical realism, he has often been compared to William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but his works defy easy classification. This report argues that Harington’s novel Farther Along is a recovery narrative structurally and thematically congruent with the recovery narratives told at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The storyteller establishes his “qualifications” as an addictive drinker and depicts alcoholism as a symptom of underlying problems manifested not only in drinking but also in self-pity and resentment. The drinker reaches a crisis, or bottom, and begins to recover after going to meetings and hearing someone else’s autobiographical story that reveals truths about the nature of addiction. Continued attendance at meetings, during which one identifies with the stories of others, ends alcoholic isolation. Help from some type of higher power becomes crucial to achieving sobriety. And recovery includes service to others as a safeguard against the return of self-pity. However, in Farther Along it is not AA’s twelve-step program that leads the protagonist to sobriety. Instead, it is storytelling in itself – fiction – that functions as the “program” of recovery. More particularly, Harington, himself an alcoholic who remained sober for more than two decades, found an alternative to AA in his bizarre brand of magical realism. Thus, the novel is a testament to the healing power of stories.

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