'Bareback Rocket Ride': The Hunter Biden Story

REVIEW: 'Beautiful Things: A Memoir'

April 10, 2021

If you've already read Adam Entous's lengthy piece on Hunter Biden in the New Yorker, the presidential scion's memoir, Beautiful Things, might seem like a waste of time and $17.57. The subject matter is pretty much the same—word for word at times—and there aren't even any pictures in the middle.

On the other hand, you might be amused by Hunter's admission that while Entous was interviewing him for the story in the spring of 2019, as his father was getting ready to announce his campaign, he was "riding bareback on a rocket ship" through West Hollywood on his way to achieving "next-level" status as a degenerate crackhead.

Beautiful Things is Hunter's side of the story, in his own words, and has more sympathy for its subject than even a sympathetic journalist could muster. To his credit, Entous was willing to consider evidence suggesting Hunter is an entitled narcissist who has been cashing in on the family name his entire adult life. Hunter, not so much. "I am not Billy Carter or Roger Clinton, God bless them," he asserts, unconvincingly. "I am not Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr." That's just as well. Hunter's story, as he tells it, is the evidence.

The writing is bland, for the most part, imbued with the self-assurance of a mediocre rich dude who always considered himself a "writer" but never got the chance to really write until his dad became president and a publishing house gave him up to $2 million. An unlikely outcome is described as having "less than de minimis" odds, which kindles the "bidding quietude" of acquiescence. A pair of alluring eyeballs are "deep-blue pools." Jim Morrison "was a fucking piker compared to my shenanigans."

Hunter is at his most passionate when describing these shenanigans. The "astounding—even death-defying" amount of drugs and alcohol he consumed during his months-long binges in $400-a-night hotel rooms. The "nonstop depravity" and the "cycle of drugs, sex, exhaustion, and exhilaration." His efforts to call out the "blatant racism" of hotel managers who dared to complain about the caravans of drug dealers and prostitutes parading through their lobbies at all hours. He was, in his own words, a character out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or one of his favorite Bukowski novels.

The author is at his most eloquent, as it were, when explaining the benefits of smoking crack. "The sensation is one of utter, almost otherworldly well-being," he writes. "You are at once energetic, focused, and calm. Blood rushes to every extremity; your skin ripples with what feels like bumblebees." Even in recovery, he still longs for the "torch-blast rush that shot to every tip of every appendage of my body," and "the sensation of being transported—at something like warp speed, as if riding bareback on a rocket ship—to some far-off, beautiful place." If you only knew "how good it made you feel," he insists, you might not think of him as such a failure.

Lavished with praise by literary giants who donated to the Biden campaign in 2020—Stephen King, Dave Eggers, Anne Lamott—Beautiful Things is billed as a forthright account of the author's struggle with addiction. It is certainly an addict's account of a struggle, albeit one intensely focused on "clapping back," as the kids say, against all the mean things Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani said about him during the campaign.

The author knows his audience. One of the earliest reviews, published in the Guardian, is little more than a rundown of all the times Trump's name is mentioned. There is an entire chapter devoted to the "epic banality" of his decision to accept a lucrative gig on the board of Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company that paid him up to $50,000 per month for the privilege of putting his (last) name on corporate documents. "The money was helpful, but I could've figured out another way to make it," he insists, dubiously. Nepotism is a helluva drug, especially when laced with the right kind of politics.

The Burisma chapter in particular is teeming with manipulative self-serving rationalization, a skill most addicts are compelled to master. The money gave him "more time to tend to Beau." He did it to take a stand for democracy and human rights by sending "an unmistakable fuck-you to Putin," unlike Trump. He did his due diligence by enlisting Boies Schiller Flexner, the major Democratic law firm where he served "of counsel," to investigate whether Burisma "was legit or plagued with corruption." The firm's past clients include Theranos and Harvey Weinstein. He says he wouldn't do it again. He definitely would.

Whether or not Burisma was corrupt is almost beside the point. At the end of the day, Hunter cashed in on the family name, and earning five figures every month for five years to essentially do nothing (the board met twice a year) was obviously a crucial factor that enabled his addiction. It funded his crack habit, as well as the holistic yoga retreats, ski trips to Lake Tahoe, and experimental treatments—ketamine infusions, Mexican toad venom, psychedelic West African shrub roots, among others—he dabbled in between relapses.

Notwithstanding the harsh reality of addiction, and the havoc it wreaks on individuals and their families, it's hard to feel sorry for Hunter Biden. At times, he seems to want the reader to take his side in petty grievances that are almost certainly his own fault. He writes disdainfully of his ex-wife, Kathleen, who reveled in "the gift of justification" upon learning of his affair with Beau's widow, and blindsided him during a counseling session by insisting, "I'm never going to forgive you." For what, exactly, Hunter does not say, but concedes that "some things were more troublesome than others."

Later on, he rails against a clinic counselor's "stubborn insistence" on making him take a drug test after he admitted using cocaine—during a Burisma board retreat in Monte Carlo, no less—because Kathleen could use it against him in court. "I refused to take the drug test while continuing to own up to what I'd done," he writes, approvingly.

Then there is the matter of the stripper he impregnated during one of his "rampages." Like his father, he still doesn't acknowledge the child as his, despite the results of a court-ordered paternity test, which prompted a confidential settlement. "I was a mess," he explains, "but a mess I've taken responsibility for." After exhausting all his legal options, of course. In any event, he has "no recollection of the encounter" that produced the child, because the woman was "hardly the dating type."

Beyond that, however, there is a disappointing lack of strip club-related anecdotes, an absence that severely undermines the author's claim of authenticity. There is only a passing reference to a "mix-up too stupid and tangled to detail" about the time Hunter "nearly got in a fight outside an after-hours club on Hollywood Boulevard." It's a thread begging to be untangled, and a subject crying out for exposition, given its centrality to the author's life. Bukowski would be sorely disappointed.