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“I’m on a boat sailing to some island where I don’t know anybody. A boat someone is operating and we aren’t in touch.” So begins David Milch’s urgent accounting of his increasingly strange present and often painful past. From the start, Milch’s life seems destined to echo that of his father, a successful if drug-addicted surgeon. Almost every achievement is accompanied by an act of self-immolation, but the deepest sadnesses also contain moments of grace.
Betting on racehorses and stealing booze at eight years old, mentored by Robert Penn Warren and excoriated by Richard Yates at twenty-one, Milch never did anything by half. He got into Yale Law School only to be expelled for shooting out streetlights with a shotgun. He paused his studies at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to manufacture acid in Cuernavaca. He created and wrote some of the most lauded television series of all time, made a family, and pursued sobriety, then lost his fortune betting horses just as his father had taught him.
Like Milch’s best screenwriting, Life’s Work explores how chance encounters, self-deception, and luck shape the people we become, and wrestles with what it means to have felt and caused pain, even and especially with those we love, and how you keep living. It is both a master class on Milch’s unique creative process, and a distinctive, revelatory memoir from one of the great American writers, in what may be his final dispatch to us all.