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Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible ThingFriends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an extremely candid memoir of alcohol and drug addiction, an unflinching warts and all look in the mirror by a popular and widely beloved actor.

Because Matthew Perry is a comedian, there are a lot of jokes peppered throughout the book. None of them land, because this isn’t the right place for them, but what comes through loud and clear is the immense pain — emotionally and at times physically — that lurks behind the jokes. Like many people, myself included, Perry uses humor to deflect real emotions and cover up pain. He’s more like his most famous role, FRIENDS’ Chandler Bing, than you ever knew.

Admittedly, two stories in the book did make me laugh. One is when a stoned-out-of-her-gourd Cameron Diaz tries to give Perry a friendly slug in the shoulder, misses, and punches him in the face. The other is when Perry, who was a Canadian tennis star in his youth, is playing tennis against Chevy Chase and serves the ball directly into Chase’s testicles. Both had me laughing out loud. I never claimed to have a mature sense of humor.

But this isn’t meant to be a funny memoir by a funny man. When I say it’s warts and all, I mean it. Perry doesn’t hold back in an effort to show himself in the best possible light. There are times when you’ll feel immense sympathy for him, and other times when you’ll want to shake him by the shoulders and yell, “Come on, man!” There are times when you will be shocked at his unbelievable egotism, and other times when you’ll see it for what it is: the coping mechanism of a scared child afraid of abandonment because he never thought he was enough. There are times when you might lose respect for him, but when you’re an addict telling your story as a cautionary tale, you can’t leave the bad stuff out, no matter how it makes you look. Any respect I lost for Perry along the way was quickly regained by the courage he showed in sharing even his most rock-bottom behavior.

My only complaint is that the memoir flips back and forth through time a lot, to the point where I sometimes got confused about where we were in his life, or which time in rehab he was talking about. A little more clarity or context might have helped alleviate that.

This is a powerful memoir, even more so if you were a fan of Perry’s in the ’90s, when he was at the height of his fame. Reading about how much drinking he was doing during FRIENDS, or how high on pills he was when David Letterman first had him on his show, is brutal. That Perry survived his ordeal is remarkable. I’m glad he lived to tell his story.

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