Kitty Kelley Book Club: ‘Lost in Ghost Town’

May 27, 2020 | Posted in Lost in Ghost Town

Addiction memoirs are a particular genre. They present unequal parts of noir autobiography, gothic fiction, sci-fi and dystopian horror, along with bits of black humor. They are books about recovery, which can only be written by those who have jumped off the train headed for oblivion. Their stories of survival plunge readers into realms of degradation that kill all but the lucky and the brave.

A few such memoirs, like David Carr’s “The Night of the Gun” and Mary Karr’s “Lit,” ascend as literary revelations. But, whatever the prose, each addiction memoir validates hope and proves that demons can be conquered. The victory usually comes at the cost of steel bracelets, nights behind bars, sleeping in alleys, suicide attempts, several stints in rehab and then a solid 12-step program, all of which Carder Stout illustrates in “Lost in Ghost Town: A Memoir of Addiction, Redemption, and Hope in Unlikely Places.”

Stout’s name will resonate with Georgetowners who remember his family from when they lived, as he writes, in the “7,000-square-foot mansion … that was a hundred years old” at 31st and P Streets. His parents partied with Washington’s nouveau riche society from the ’70s to the ’90s, regularly chronicled in the glossy magazines Dossier and Washington Life, celebrants of charity balls and embassy galas.

If money is life’s report card, the Stouts got straight As — for a while. “My dad said, ‘You must always act rich,’” Stout writes.

His father, Anthony Carder Stout, known as Tony, founded National Journal, then established a foundation to build a memorial in France honoring Americans who served in World War II. The $4 million he raised from veterans for the memorial mysteriously disappeared, and Stout was forced off his own board. “He conned the vets,” writes his son. Following a report of mismanagement by the General Accounting Office, the Internal Revenue Service began investigating, which led to an expose by “60 Minutes.” Then the FBI moved in, and Tony Stout fled town.

His mother, Julie Jeppson Stout Park, known as Muffy, was an heiress of Norton Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. Stout writes he had “mad love” for his mother, but “she live[d] inside a bottle of vodka.” For a while “[s]he was the Grande Dame of Georgetown society, throwing lavish parties in her palatial mansion. After my father left her, she had a string of drug-addled boyfriends who robbed her of her dignity before they left her.” Weak from years of alcoholism, Muffy Stout fell down a flight of stairs to her death in 2008. Tony Stout, having run through millions, died broke nine years later.

Stout paints a lacerating portrait of his parents, particularly his father, who was never around while he was growing up. “I didn’t know where my dad was most of the time. There were always bags in the hallway, and I didn’t know if he was coming or going. When he was there, he got mad a lot and when he yelled, it felt like the whole house shook.” He recalls his father as “a small man with a big opinion of himself … [he’d] find a lady and run off somewhere and leave his kids behind.”

While Stout is unsparing when he writes about his parents, he’s equally unflinching about himself, first as an adolescent: “the stealing, the eating disorder, the cheating on girlfriends, the lies, the betrayals, the evil wishes and the time I wore girls’ underpants to school in the second grade.” Then, as an adult, a crippling addiction to crack cocaine took him “to the other side … I was dead.” He describes “one botched suicide attempt” when he “ingested an entire bottle of Advil PM with a fifth of bourbon and a heroin chaser. I ended up sleeping for thirty hours.”

You can’t get more of a cliché than a trust-fund baby neglected by rich parents, loved only by the family’s black maid, who tumbles into drug addiction, stealing and selling family heirlooms to support his habit as he careens towards self-destruction. But Stout elevates the cliché to a colorful saga of chapters that alternate between the sunny streets of Georgetown and the bloody back alleys of Ghost Town in Los Angeles.

The spirited narrative is a tribute to his college degree in creative writing. Stout puts his Ph.D. credential on the cover of the book. This might seem a bit of braggadocio, until you read his press release and realize the degree took him 10 years of study to achieve. His perseverance deserves as much applause as his scholarship and sobriety.

Carder Stout now lives his happily-ever-after life in Southern California with a wife and two young children. As he relates at the end of his book, he is a practicing psychologist, treating “a clientele that includes Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy winners.” He opens his memoir with a ringing endorsement from Gwyneth Paltrow, followed by praise from actors Will Arnett and Billy Crudup. You then understand why Stout’s main drug dealer called him “Hollywood.”