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There’s a too-brief scene late in Hunter Biden’s new memoir where Dr. Jill Biden tricks the crack-addled lawyer and consultant to come for dinner at the family home in Wilmington, Del. Upon walking through the door, Hunter sees the family gathered — along with counselors from one of the countless rehab facilities that pop up throughout his memoir.
There is screaming and there are tears. Future President Joe Biden is described as terrified and pleading with his son. One of Hunter’s daughters takes his car keys away from him. He eventually agrees to his family’s plea to try another round of rehab, just not at the one they picked. He wants to go to one in Maryland. The family, after 15 years of rounds of rehab and relapse, agrees. Frantic phone calls follow and appointments are made for that evening. Hunter’s brother’s widow (and his ex-girlfriend) Hallie ferries him to the front gates. Once she drives away, Hunter summons an Uber, checks into a hotel near BWI, smokes the crack he had hidden in his bag and flies to Los Angeles for yet another bender.
This probably isn’t the portrait of the Biden family that the President and his advisers would have painted. But Beautiful Things, published today, is the world according to Hunter Biden, son of the current President and a mainstay on the Washington scene until the death of his brother sent him in a dark spiral. It is a tragic tale that finally rounds the bend when his current wife Melissa tells him flat-out that his days as a crack user are over.
The tabloid fodder is in it, for sure. So is the politics, although frankly it’s not needed. The book is a deeply personal account of his relationship with his brother, the former Attorney General of Delaware, probably the state’s future Governor and possibly a President Beau Biden. Hunter Biden is careful never to blame his own struggles with addiction on Beau, but the timeline of his waggon tumbles and Beau’s death at age 46 line-up neatly.
More importantly, it’s the story of redemption. The fact that Hunter Biden is even alive to write it is enough. There are countless visits to rehab. There are searches for crack in Nashville. The 14-day bender during which he flipped one rental car and left his brother’s AG badge and a bunch of drugs in another. He learns to cook his own crack — and he does so — at Chateau Marmont, one of the many LA hotels that lost patience with Hunt’s party-loving entourage and suddenly didn’t have availability. He chases a probably hallucinated barn owl through the California desert. Hunter Biden has escaped what he calls “the Four Housemen of the Crackocalypse,” and he is here to tell us about it.
To be sure, the book is sometimes tone-deaf in its handling of privilege, with casual mentions of hanging out in the Senate steam room as a young man with the likes of Ted Kennedy. Historians would murder to eavesdrop on Dan Inouye telling Hunter Biden stories from World War II over BLTs while a distracted Joe Biden practiced politics in the Senate dining room. It treats out-of-control drug use as a matter-of-fact part of Hunter Biden’s life, at one point saying Jim Morrison had nothing on his own “shenanigans.” He brushes over his relationships with women as something he has no memories of; his child with an Arkansas woman merits little more than a line.
Yet in an era of indulgent political memoirs that seek to promote a candidate’s platform and cast the family as picture-perfect, Beautiful Things one stands out for its raw truths. Clearly, no political fixer had a hand near this manuscript. This is not the Instagram version of Hunter Biden’s life. This is the version where every frame has a squint, smudge and, occasionally, a leech taking advantage of the tab left open with room service.
Throughout the memoir Hunter casts himself not as the family screw-up but its shrewd savior. Where he went around his father’s embryonic presidential campaign for a series of phone interviews — while smoking crack alone in LA — with a New Yorker writer, he didn’t see a communications misfire. He saw himself doing a favor for his dad and family. “Nobody was going to vote or not vote for my dad because his son is a crack addict,” he notes. And when it came out that he was dating his dead brother’s wife, he enlisted his dad to dutifully release a statement normalizing a potential situation where Uncle Hunt became Step-Dad Hunt to Beau’s kids, and cousins became step-siblings. After Hunter surprised his family with the news he was both engaged to Melissa after only a few dates, the family dutifully endorsed it.
Hunter explicitly rejects comparisons to the likes of Billy Carter and Roger Clinton, perceived grifters who traded on their family connection. While acknowledging his last name helped him win access to jobs and meetings, he also puts up his own resume as a reason for hefty consulting fees. He writes that his response to those who claim nepotism as “been to work harder so that my accomplishments stand on their own.” Yet six pages later, he treats his lucrative consulting gigs as a way to advance U.S. interests. “Having a Biden on Burisma’s board was a loud and unmistakable f— -you to Putin,” Hunter Biden writes, in one of the few passages where he addresses his ties to Ukraine that have been weaponized by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans against the elder Biden.
At times, it may be tempting for a reader to throw the book across the room in anger. Here is seemingly a charmed prince, complaining about how Fox News is covering his personal life? A member of a family where unconditional love is not an ideal but rather the real thing, grousing about the Trump campaign selling “Where’s Hunter?” T-shirts? An individual with the means to get help but seemingly unable to make the initial ask, and when it’s made, detours violently away?
But addiction, as Hunter writes, is the great equalizer and doesn’t care about pedigree. Biden got into the habit of taking his laptop and two coats to the garage of his house to drink heavily and watch Battlestar Galactica, thinking he was hiding his addiction from his then-wife. After she exiled him from their home, Hunter moved into a building just around the corner from me in Washington. In his book, he talks about not being able to make it home from the corner liquor store with a plastic jug of vodka without taking a swig of it, all while cashing huge monthly retainers from clients. Days of 16-hour booze fests were just the start. He would later earn what his live-in dealer says he “graduated into crackology’s PhD program.”
But Hunter’s sense of non-belonging starts much earlier, way back in elementary school and continuing into college. Hunter Biden was bullied. He was unwelcome as a walk-on at Georgetown’s football program and didn’t last a season. So bad were his years at Georgetown, Joe Biden would from time to time break his routine and stay overnight in Washington so Hunter cound share a hotel with him and get away from the dorms. While his then-wife Kathleen became close to Michelle Obama and would join her for cocktails at the White House, Hunter writes he never felt welcome and suspected folks were uncomfortable with him there. The whole campaign feeding frenzy on his business dealings only left him feeling a victim of Joe Biden’s career.
Hunter is the first of three main characters in this story. The second of course is Beau Biden. His death was the singular topic of Joe Biden’s post-White House memoir, a heart-breaking work that chronicled that pained period in the Biden clan. That loss is a running theme through Hunter Biden’s book, too. But where Joe Biden used an Irish poet’s deft touch and deep introspection, Hunter Biden deploys a millennial’s lack of filter. The near-constant hum of profanity suggests this is Hunter Biden dictating authentically onto the page.
While he continuously grieves Beau in every page, there’s also a brotherly competition that is present. For instance, Beau worked desk jobs through college and kept banker’s hours while Hunter worked 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. unloading railcars, worked in a restaurant, as a valet and as a Senate delivery aide. Hunter says he paid off Beau’s student loans.
You can feel some resentments in the writing. For instance, Hunter decides against pursuing an MFA to support his unplanned family. He then casts himself as having few better options than working as a credit card company and later as a lobbyist to pay off his own massive student loans. He complains that he never was paid for his work with the World Food Program and his compensation as Amtrak’s chairman covered just his expenses. And he writes that he was both worried and aggrieved when then-VP Biden got an emergency briefing on Beau’s experimental medical treatment elsewhere in the hospital while Hunter was waiting for an update in his brother’s room. The doctors were following protocol, Hunter Biden writes, but it left the brother feeling iced out.
The third character is Joe Biden, for whom you get a picture of as patriarch of a deeply loved but highly erratic family. As a boy, Hunter pretended to run away from home, leaving the Bidens — who had already buried a mother and sister — panicked. Hunter Biden likens it to Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. Much later, when Hunter was struggling with addiction in Washington, Joe Biden convinced the Secret Service to slim down his detail so he could slip to visit Hunter at his Logan Circle apartment and make this dire assessment: “I know you’re not fine, Hunter. You need help.”
Unfortunately for readers, Hunter Biden dives into politics when it comes to his father, and his hand proves rather amateur. For instance, Joe Biden ended his 1988 run for the White House in a plagiarism scandal that Hunter calls a “political hit job” over “loosely appropriated parts of a speech.” In the one chapter entirely devoted to politics, he comes across as defensive and outraged that his swampiness got called out. He says joining the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma was not a lapse in judgement, although he admits he wouldn’t do it again. He ponders whether his father owes him the apology for it becoming an issue, or if the tables should be turned.
Bidenologists will find some nuggets buried in here, as well. For instance, the Biden family home in Delaware — once owned by a du Pont — was too expensive to heat in the winter, so the Bidens would put up drywall to close off half of it to reduce the energy bills. And Hunter writes what many have suspected for years: Joe Biden was never going to retire until he won the Oval Office.
Well, Joe Biden is in the Oval. And now Hunter Biden has published a book worthy of that MFA he skipped to pay the bills. Maybe America has a first son’s story of addiction to help it finally confront this deep problem that has haunted so many families across the nation. It’s not a glossy version of Biden family lore that the President’s advisers might have preferred. But maybe it’s what the country needed to see.
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