Dan Peres always loved magic. As a slightly nerdy, Jewish kid from an upscale suburb just outside Baltimore, he’d practice tricks endlessly in his basement. So, the story of his nearly magical transformation to editor-in-chief of the award-winning men’s magazine Details has the ingredients of a transfixing read. But what really lends this memoir its binge-worthiness is that for his entire career, Peres was a serious drug addict.
The book’s structure is like that of a magazine article, jumping in at the middle of the story, and then backtracking to the beginning, ultimately ending with a satisfying resolution. Peres writes in short, descriptive paragraphs, deftly weaving in events from the future and the past to round out the moment. The chapters are tightly constructed, with an always-engaging forward drive. There ’s no allowance for poetic digressions.
Again and again, with a single sentence, Peres draws the reader to the key detail that crystallizes everything else. “I eventually fell asleep next to a small pile of coleslaw,” he says of trashing a hotel room after losing a recording of an interview with David Copperfield. “The rock star wore nail polish,” he writes of an otherwise unnamed band member who aids Peres’s habit as it grows bigger and more out of control. “Can dogs smell pills?” he wonders while crossing the border from Tijuana with $6,000 of Vicodin in the trunk of his car.
What remains mystifying is how Peres navigated the high-stakes world of fashion and celebrity, even as his drug addiction grew singularly demanding of his time. With a sixty-pill-a-day habit, he tells of his nearly-constant appointments with doctors around New York City, trying to convince them that an old back injury required new prescriptions. He writes of nights spent zoned out in front of his television or fireplace, unable to function. He writes about meetings nearly missed and invitations deflected.
But what’s never sacrificed is Peres’s job. There are no stories of slipped deadlines or magazine issues that nearly didn’t make it. Despite his addiction, Peres managed a full magazine staff and transformed Details from a bankrupt entity to one of the most successful fashion magazines in the industry.
As Needed for Pain is a glittering dive into a world of celebrity and self-doubt, of talent and toxicity. It is the gritty, painful, and beautifully written story of the unstoppable drive for a high. But it’s ultimately the story of figuring out how to feel “the way I’d always wanted to feel,” as Peres writes of the first time he took Vicodin, without destroying his own life in the process.
Juli Berwald Ph.D. is a science writer living in Austin, Texas and the author of Spineless: the Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. Her book on the future of coral will be published in 2021.