“Nightmarish” “Horrifying”: Thomas Randall’s The Twelfth Step

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Matthew J. Raphael, a retired professor of English. Raphael is author of Bill W. and Mr. Wilson (University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), as well as other books and essays on the place of alcohol in American literature and culture. His previous work for Points includes reviewing the movie Bill W. and a review of Writing the Big Book.

At a convention in St. Louis in July 1955, Alcoholic Anonymous celebrated its twentieth anniversary. The event coincided with the release of the second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson emphasized the need for A.A. to move beyond reliance on its quasi-paternal founders and grow up. This idea inspired the title of the book memorializing the occasion: Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (1957), the least familiar but most historically enlightening of A.A.’s canonical texts.

That same year, Thomas Randall, publishing under a pseudonym, released The Twelfth Step, which might be seen as a literary counterpart to Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. When I stumbled upon a copy of The Twelfth Step thirty years ago, I thought it was the best A.A.-related novel I had ever encountered. I’ve just reread it, and my opinion has not changed.

Curious readers might wish to check it out.

The cover of the 1963 paperback English edition

Honk! Spoiler Alert: The book is nearly unobtainable. There are roughly two dozen copies currently for sale online, varying in format and condition and ranging widely in price. The rare American edition from Charles Scribner’s Sons, goes from $25 to $250; the 1960 English edition, from $25 to $80; the 1963 paperback version of the English edition, from $20 to $45.

Until recently (see below), nothing was known about the writer of The Twelfth Step except what’s stated on the dust jacket and in a brief author’s note, which expresses appreciation to the New Hampshire State Alcoholic Clinic, “at which I received aid when I was desperately in need of it.” The author also gives thanks to A.A. groups in Woburn and Reading, Massachusetts; Concord, Tilton, and Laconia, New Hampshire; and Mexico City.

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