Smacked: A Sto­ry of White-Col­lar Ambi­tion, Addic­tion, and Tragedy

September 1, 2019

Some­thing was wrong with Peter. His ex-wife, Eilene, saw the dra­mat­ic weight loss, jaun­diced skin, exhaus­tion, flu-like sick­ness. His behav­ior was errat­ic, his think­ing non­sen­si­cal. Eilene assumed it was due to stress from his job as a senior part­ner at a promi­nent law firm. What she didn’t real­ize was that he was strug­gling with a seri­ous drug addic­tion, one that would ulti­mate­ly kill him. The rea­sons Eilene mar­ried a man like Peter (depressed, emo­tion­al­ly dis­tant) has much to do with an ear­ly lack of con­fi­dence. Grow­ing up Jew­ish in a large­ly Irish and Ital­ian Catholic neigh­bor­hood, she was one of just a few Jew­ish kids in her pub­lic school and always felt like an ugly out­sider.” In junior high, some­one paint­ed the word Jew” in red on her lock­er. Lat­er in life, she lacked the con­fi­dence to ques­tion Peter, to push back, and instead watched him osten­si­bly killing him­self in plain sight. Smacked tells Eilene’s sto­ry, Peter’s sto­ry, and the larg­er sto­ry of the ways white-col­lar com­pe­ti­tion and ambi­tion are dri­ving addic­tion and unhappiness.

Discussion Questions

    Cour­tesy of Eilene Zimmerman

  1. What aspects of Eilene’s sto­ry — her mar­riage, divorce, Peter’s decline and ill­ness — could you relate to? Why? 

  2. Why do you think the author chose to tell this story? 

  3. Do you feel part of the rea­son to tell it was to bring an issue (or sev­er­al issues) into pub­lic aware­ness? If so, did your opin­ion about addic­tion, the pres­sures of a white-col­lar life, drug use and abuse in soci­ety, consumption…change or evolve in some way? 

  4. Dis­cuss Peter’s choic­es — includ­ing his career choice, his infi­deli­ty and his drug use. What may have been behind them? Do you think the pres­sures of Big Law life and fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties were large­ly respon­si­ble for his strug­gle with addic­tion? Or do you think that strug­gle has to do with issues beyond that? 

  5. Smacked is more than a sto­ry of addic­tion, there is a theme of mind­less over­con­sump­tion too. How do you inter­pret the large amount of Peter’s pos­ses­sions, espe­cial­ly when some of the items were unopened and oth­ers in duplicate? 

  6. What do you think Peter’s house meant to him? What was its sig­nif­i­cance to Eilene? Why was she so ner­vous about see­ing it for the first time? 

  7. Do you agree with Eilene’s deci­sion to tell her chil­dren the truth about their father’s death? Do you agree with the timing? 

  8. How did try­ing to keep secret the true cir­cum­stances of Peter’s death affect Eilene? 

  9. Were you sur­prised when the med­ical exam­in­er, Angela, tells Eilene that over­dose deaths among wealthy high-pow­ered exec­u­tives” was becom­ing more com­mon? Can you think of why that might be the case? Before read­ing this book, what was your image of an addict?”

  10. In her chap­ter Bet­ter Liv­ing With Chem­istry” the author puts forth her con­cern about young adults, who are under enor­mous pres­sure to suc­ceed at a time when drugs of all kinds are increas­ing­ly acces­si­ble. Is the author over­ly con­cerned, in your opin­ion? How do you view this evolv­ing situation? 

  11. It’s wide­ly accept­ed that addic­tion is a dis­ease, caused both by the envi­ron­ment and genet­ics. Know­ing this, was Eilene’s anger at Peter, caused by her belief that at one point, before he was addict­ed, he made a con­scious choice to use, under­stand­able? Or is the con­scious­ness of that choice debatable? 

  12. Did the struc­ture of the book — its orga­ni­za­tion — serve the nar­ra­tive? Although the read­er knows there is a death from the out­set of the sto­ry, did the struc­ture and writ­ing keep you engaged?

  13. Near the end of the book is a quote from psy­chi­a­trist Judd Brew­er who said, Peo­ple like Peter think, just this much more and then I’ll be hap­py.’ But it will nev­er be enough. The prob­lem is that we are not com­fort­able with our­selves, with being our­selves.” Do you agree or dis­agree with Brewer? 

  14. Was there any­thing espe­cial­ly sur­pris­ing to you about Eilene’s sto­ry? Did the book change your opin­ion or per­spec­tive about addiction?