Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Model Citizen by Joshua Mohr. (MCDxFSG)
When I cracked open Joshua Mohr’s new memoir, Model Citizen, the first few sections seemed familiar. I pulled Sirens, Mohr’s 2017 release, off my shelf and started matching it section for section. Originally, I thought Model Citizen was going to be a follow-up to Mohr’s first memoir, and in a way it is, but instead of picking up where Sirens ends it’s more of a recut of that book—a director’s cut, of sorts—now with deleted scenes and more up-to-date content.
Joshua Mohr was an addict, up for drinking and ingesting anything that came his way. In the first chunk of Model Citizen, Mohr dives into his first marriage and the messed-up things he did under the influence, like robbing a drunkard, driving staples into all parts of his body, and begging a biker to take him on a ride in a blizzard. He wasn’t the kind of guy who had a beer or two while hanging out with friends, no, he was the guy who binged and blacked out, losing himself to the moment.
We then move into his first stage of sobriety. He cleans himself up, remarries, and has a daughter. His life becomes one that pushes him to be a better person. This is also when he has a seizure—what he thought was his first but turned out to be his third; he was likely too drunk to have noticed the other times. After having some tests done, he learns he has a hole in his heart. He goes in for a procedure that involves pushing a small umbrella-like device though his vein into his heart to create a fabricated wall. The kicker: the doctor who developed this procedure, Werner Forssmann, was a Nazi.
Then, we get to the third section—which is primarily where we get the new stuff—and we see a relapse. It was as simple as him walking into a bar and drinking a single beer. He’s forced to weigh this incident, trying to answer a root question: Was this a true relapse or can he now handle having just one beer? If he believes he can handle it, then what are the chances that the old addiction monster will creep up and sink its claws into him, begging for more and more until Mohr’s back to blacking out and hurting anyone who is unfortunate enough to get in his way. Is drinking a single a beer now and then worth the risk when he has his wife and daughter to consider?
Joshua Mohr is a hell of a writer. The way he describes his life doesn’t exaggerate or try to make himself look any better or worse than he deserves.
Joshua Mohr is a hell of a writer. The way he describes his life doesn’t exaggerate or try to make himself look any better or worse than he deserves. It’s structured like a novel, where time is fluid and we move back and forth in his life, seeing how past Joshua relates to current Joshua, and all the moments in between. We’re seeing an honest portrayal of Mohr and, in writing this way, he further humanizes this issue that so many people deal with. It’s easy to write off addicts as subhuman, but Model Citizen doesn’t let us do that because Mohr focuses on the person he was, is, and plans on being. Life is more multi-layered than most of us would care to admit, and Mohr does a fantastic job of illustrating this.
Speaking of the multi-layered reality. One of the reasons I loved Sirens was because it elevated the genre. It wasn’t just an addiction and recovery memoir. The Werner Forssmann detail was used as a springboard to open a discussion of morality. We like to think of this in terms of black and white—you’re either a good person or a bad person. Sirens set out to run Mohr’s story in parallel to Forssmann, asking us to consider this: Since Joshua Mohr did so many detestable things, does that make him unforgiveable? Does that make him a bad person forever and ever? And, in effect, he poses the question: What makes a moral person? This is lost in Model Citizen. It is more of a straightforward addiction and recovery memoir, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I found myself missing that added flair.
Mohr does trade the parallels to the Nazi doctor with a deeper examination of his relationship to his parents. They split up when he was young, his dad moved to California and left Mohr in the desert with an alcoholic mom. He looks at it as if there were two possible paths he could have taken, but because of someone’s unknown failure—his dad’s—he followed the route that brought on his addiction and possibly exacerbated it. But then we must ask ourselves: Is this something that he could have avoided? Or would his inevitable addiction have reared its ugly head in a different way? Not as much as Sirens, but this elevates Model Citizen above a standard memoir because it’s, again, acting like a novel by giving us more questions to ponder than it’s trying to answer.
Model Citizen is well worth the read because Mohr writes in such an honest and effective way. If I hadn’t read Sirens (which rocketed to the top of my list of all-time favorite books), I think I would have been deeply embedded in this story, but it feels like parts of the original goal was lost in the expansion.
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