My Heart Is a Drunken Compass: A Memoir

Domingo Martinez (Author)


With his trademark tragic-comical voice and arresting storytelling, Domingo Martinez once again delivers a deeply personal memoir full of wry asides and poignant, thoughtful reflections in his new book My Heart Is a Drunken Compass. His first book shockingly ended with his fiancé Stephanie plummeting off the side of an overpass in Seattle, after having a seizure while driving. He now chronicles this painful episode in his life, with flashbacks to their tenuous romantic relationship, and how her accident and subsequent coma ultimately causes him to unravel emotionally. This pivotal moment, which began with an alarming call in the middle of the night, parallels another gut-wrenching experience from the past when his youngest brother's life hangs in the balance. Martinez once again brilliantly examines the complicated connections between family, friends, and loved ones. Feeling estranged from his family in Texas over the years, isolated and alone in Seattle, he turns to writing as a therapeutic tool. The underlying themes of addiction and recovery and their powerful impact on family dynamics also emerge within the narrative, as he struggles with his inner demons. These two traumatic life events actually bring Martinez closer to the family that he has in many ways spend years trying to deny, strengthening their bonds and healing old wounds. When Martinez falls apart completely, he finds his family, his redemption, and a new beginning with the love of his life, who encourages him to write his way out of the pain in order to save his own life.

Product Details

Lyons Press
Publish Date
November 18, 2014
6.38 X 1.04 X 9.25 inches | 1.14 pounds
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About the Author

Domingo Martinez is the New York Times bestselling author of The Boy Kings of Texas and was a Finalist for the National Book Award. The Boy Kings of Texas has been optioned by HBO for an original series through Salma Hayek's production company, Ventanarosa. Martinez's work has appeared in Texas Monthly, The New Republic, Saveur Magazine, and more. He has also appeared on NPR's All Things Considered and This American Life as well as The Diane RehmShow.


Domingo Martinez is an essential new American voice, and My Heart Is a Drunken Compass delivers on the promise of The Boy Kings of Texas. In a life of chaos and pain he manages to find grace, and humor, and--contrary to the title of this book--real moral purpose. This is a riveting book.--Dave Eggers
To be an aspiring writer from a poor Mexican-American family of heavy drinkers on the border might read tragic if it weren't so hilarious in Martinez's My Heart is a Drunken Compass. Might seem easier when he moves to the Northwest and tries to make like one of the civilized. Glazed, troubled, often lost, Martinez's too hot, drunken heart is still awful funny in cool Seattle.--Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning and Woodcuts of Women
The author of The Boy Kings of Texas (2012) returns with another deeply personal and moving memoir. It begins with two late-night phone calls, several years apart. In one, in March 2007, he learns that his brother has sustained a head injury after a fall; the other, in December 2009, tells him that his ex-fiancée has driven her car over the side of an overpass. In writing about this traumatic period in his life, Martinez talks candidly and painfully about his own mental collapse, his alcoholism and drug use, and his slow path to recovery. It's not what you might call an entertaining memoir--if anything it's almost operatically tragic--but Martinez writes so frankly, so eloquently, that we are compelled to keep reading, if for no other reason than to see if this poor guy finds a way to come out the other side of all he's gone through. He does, but it is a hard-won breakthrough.--Booklist
Martinez holds nothing back as he interweaves his own downward spiral with tales of his Mexican-American family, his interactions with his social circle, his work and his fraught bond with Steph. . . .Page after page, the captivating Martinez releases a flood of raw emotions in this tender and illuminating memoir.--Shelf Awareness
This tragicomic memoir is not just about the complications of family, but also about the power of narrative to heal and make whole. A passionate . . . account of personal redemption.--Kirkus
The follow-up to his first book, the Nation Book Award Finalist The Boy Kings of Texas, this work finds Martinez again mining his personal and family life for narrative gold. This time, instead of focusing on his border childhood he turns his attention to his adult life in Seattle, most notably his younger brother Derek's near fatal drunken fall and his ex-fiancé's harrowing car accident that act as catalysts for an exploration of his own personal traumas--including his alcoholic tendencies and near-suicidal depression. Though Martinez's mischievous nature can still illicit a smile, the self-deprecating humor of the first book has mostly been replaced with self-loathing as the author continually realizes he is unable to help his loved ones because he more often than not refuses to help himself. However, the fact that he knows his issues and is able talk about them in such intricate prose ('My heart was a drunken compass even then, before I was a drunk.') allows this work to remain compelling despite the author's inability to change. As Martinez rides a roller coaster of relapse and redemption, those who survive Martinez's self-inflicted wounds and hang on till the end are rewarded with a conclusion that's unlikely as it is uplifting.--Publishers Weekly
My Heart is a Drunken Compass is a tragic comedy filled with wit and cultural insight....[Martinez] can be hilarious and insightful, especially about moments when cultures merge or collide.....Martinez's voice, which seems like a cross between a border outlaw and an Ivy League scholar, is so self-assured it's difficult not to get pulled into the story. Even when he hits rock bottom, he never loses his sense of humor, and his tenacity to survive is inspiring. If his raw will and Texas grit can't save him, his writing just might.--The New York Times Magazine
Though his eager readers will no doubt be curious as to what sustains a man who has lived on box wine, Xanax and pizza, the greater curiosity is what Martinez, who has produced two memoirs that unspool the tropes of identity writing in a form that often resembles a fine travelogue, will, with his ferocious wit and fearless self-examination, mine for us next.--The Dallas Morning News
My Heart is a Drunken Compass is as chatty, funny, philosophical, touching and brutally honest as Domingo Martinez's first memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas.--Seattle Times
At heart a cautionary tale about the destruction that alcoholism, addiction and mental illness can inflict on a family, it's a tough read - and would be harrowing, even - if it weren't so hilarious.--Houston Chronicle and Herald--Zeitung