A Journey Out of Darkness
- 240 Pages
- March 7, 2023
- ISBN: 9781956763317
- Trim Size: 6in x 9in x 0in
A deeply felt literary memoir of one man’s journey to redemption through vision loss, alcoholism, and the burden of a family legacy.
Born to the author Peter Matthiessen, young Lucas traveled through life believing himself a disappointment to his famous father. From an early age, Lucas was exposed to the fanciful ideas of his parent’s group of renowned bohemians as well as to their addictive pastimes. Within the shadow of his father’s professional success came another source of darkness—the deterioration of Lucas’s vision from retinitis pigmentosa. With blindness looming imminently, Lucas spirals downward, unsure of how to turn his degree in English Literature into a job and relying more and more on alcohol. As Lucas’ drinking and eyesight worsen, so too do his interpersonal relationships and first career in publishing.
First Light is a memoir of loss and learning. By pulling himself out of addiction and accepting that he will lose his sight completely, Lucas transitions from being “the son of” someone famous to an individual with his own strong sense of self. Despite continued personal tragedies, Lucas develops a second sight that is aimed inward, laying his triumphs and failures bare.
With great honesty, Lucas Matthiessen creates a vivid portrait of self-destruction and rebirth, which is, above all, a vision of hope.
Matthiessen (1953-2022), the son of Peter Matthiessen, was born in Paris, surrounded by his father’s clique of literary bohemians and expectations to live up to the esteemed family name. When his parents divorced in 1956, Matthiessen volleyed between their culturally significant social circles but ended up relocating with his mother to New York. His home life devolved as his mother struggled with alcoholism, and he attended boarding school not for the experience but to “remove me from the chaos.” In smooth, crisply vivid prose, Matthiessen describes his time at Columbia studying English literature, during which he entertained a series of misguided trysts with one of his father’s old flames and was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease inherited from his mother that would slowly rob him of his sight. By age 35, the condition severely hampered his lofty ambitions of continuing the family authorial tradition, but he soldiered on and accompanied his father on humanitarian trips to Tibet and Africa. The author often reflects back to his youth in the shadow of his famous father, his Zen Buddhist teachings, and their bonding experiences. He also elaborates on his romanticized perspective of alcohol as the “magical elixir that helped me feel comfortable in the world, a sensation for which I would eventually sacrifice almost anything.” Matthiessen bracingly articulates his adult years spent drinking, almost as a sullen distraction from accepting the deterioration of his eyesight. Alcoholism destroyed his personal life with his wife, who also drank heavily, and working relationships as an editor at the Paris Review and Penguin Books. As his eyesight continued to decline and he committed to rehab, Matthiessen abandoned his literary career in favor of pursuing social work at substance abuse rehabilitation centers. Though hobbled by an inconsistent timeline, the text is an engrossing, emotional confessional made even more poignant by the author’s death from cancer at the age of 69.
A resilient memoir of disease, recovery, and humbling catharsis."
“First Light is an astoundingly forthright and beautiful chronicle of the late Luke Matthiessen’s blindness, alcoholism, and painful family life, along with his eventual, hard-earned rise to becoming a caregiver and at long last, the great writer his father Peter aspired for him to be as his son and a fellow Matthiessen.”
— Will Blythe, former literary editor at Esquire magazine