Beautiful Things: A Memory, by Hunter Biden Gallery Books, Hide Subtitles
When former President Donald Trump was still in office holding rallies, he often shouted a question that made the crowd laugh: “Where’s Hunter?”
Trump was mocking Hunter Biden, the son of the man who is now President Biden. Nice things: A memory is Jäger’s answer to Trump’s question. He wants to tell us where he is, where he was and what it took to get him from there to here.
It’s a harrowing journey at times. Readers who make it to the end may feel like they’ve completed a 12-step rehab program themselves. The details sometimes make you feel exposed to something like degradation porn.
As has long been reported, the younger Biden is an alcoholic and a crack addict. Euphemisms about “alcohol and drug problems” do not apply here, as the memoirist himself makes clear on the first pages.
“I was so desperate for a drink that I couldn’t make the block between a liquor store and my apartment without sealing the bottle for a drink,” Biden writes. He also provides instructions on how to cook cocaine powder in crack in the kitchen.
After buying his first rock crack cocaine in a public square in downtown Washington at the age of 18 and spending much of his school years drinking (“I could always drink five times as much as anyone”), Biden started his Touring rehab facilities in his early 30s. He has seen the inside of celebrity treatment centers in Mexico as well as various parts of the United States. The rehab resulted in brief bouts of sobriety followed by relapses, each of which seemed to drive him deeper into the addiction.
He admits he spent months drunk in a DC apartment and additional months of drinking cocaine in hotel bungalows in Hollywood while his father was either a vice president or a presidential candidate. Given the time he spent high at the wheel, it’s amazing that the author can still be alive to tell the story.
He also addresses other elements of his life that raised eyebrows or raised potential legal and political issues. He confirms DNA evidence that he fathered a child with a woman he doesn’t remember meeting her. He acknowledges the aftermath of his affair with his late brother Beau’s widow, which took place after his brother’s death and after the widow picked him up from a rehab center.
And he devotes a chapter to his relationship with Burisma, a natural gas company in Ukraine that has been one of his most lucrative appearances. The younger Biden received five-digit amounts every month for his work on the company’s board of directors. Since he had no special knowledge of gas or the political economy of Ukraine, this remuneration was always suspect.
Hunter Biden said he reviewed Burisma at a well-known US law firm and worked to help them comply with US and European Union anti-corruption laws and related transparency requirements. Regarding Burisma’s interest in Jäger’s family connection, he writes:
“No question about it, my last name was a coveted ID. It always has been. Do you think if any of the Trump kids ever tried to find a job outside of their father’s business, their name wouldn’t be included in the calculation? The answer has always been to work harder so that my accomplishments stand on their own. “
Of course, Trump and his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani spent much of 2019 and 2020 promoting the younger Biden’s relationship with Burisma as a corrupt business that the older Biden was involved in – and that needed to be investigated. These allegations, and Trump’s aggressive efforts to get Ukraine to investigate, led to his first impeachment.
But Trump and Giuliani didn’t stop there. Efforts to portray Hunter as a liability, even a disqualification for his father’s candidacy, continued until the November 2020 election.
The final breath of Giuliani’s campaign against the Bidens was a laptop supposedly taken from sources intended to document the younger Biden’s drug use and other crimes. The laptop story has been discredited by US intelligence and independent investigations by news organizations.
As for drug use, there could hardly be a worse account in his memoir than Hunter Biden’s. Repeated attempts to intervene by his father and family do not stop him. He is estranged from his wife, who is divorcing him and has custody of their daughters. With each relapse, he descends one more rung until he has plagued a nightly underworld of addicts, traders, ex-opponents and scammers in Los Angeles.
And then, on the last few pages, it’s spring 2019 and Hunter meets a South African filmmaker and activist named Melissa, who is quickly getting his life under control in a way that Hunter himself never did. He stops drinking and smoking crack. The two, who married not long after meeting, now have a son, a toddler, whom the nation saw on stage at the Biden Victory Celebration on the Saturday following the November elections.
This little boy is called Beau, after Jäger’s older brother, who died of a brain tumor in 2015. But at this point in the book, it is known that the son could have no other name. Beau Biden is as much a character as any other in this memoir. He appears in memories beginning on the night in 1972 when the boys were injured in a car accident that killed their mother and baby sister. They wake up side by side in a hospital. Their shared memories of this loss bind them far more than even close brothers are normally bound. After Beau’s death, Hunter loses the will to fight the demons he has fought for so long.
When he meets Melissa, the first thing he tells us is that she has blue eyes like Beaus. The final section of Beautiful Things is a letter to Beau, and the title refers to a mantra the two had during the days they spent together towards the end of Beau’s life.
This treatise is certainly a confession, but it seems to seek something other than conventional forgiveness – something other than sympathy.
It’s not easy to be a senator’s son. It can be convenient at times and many doors can open. But Hunter Biden’s father wasn’t just a senator. And while no one can doubt the love between the two, as has been shown at length countless times, there is also a gap between the hunger of the son and the trajectory of the tea-total father. (Elderly Biden was aware of the stories of problem drinkers in the family tree and kept clear.)
It wasn’t always easy being Beau Biden’s little brother, either. Popular and smart, Beau was president of his high school class every year while Hunter changed schools a lot looking for the right fit. He came to Georgetown University but drank a lot while studying. He came to Yale on a second attempt after adding a poem to his application. He later tells us that he has a 172 on his LSAT (99th percentile) and clearly has a sense of his abilities – both professional and artistic – that was never fulfilled.
If it’s not about forgiveness or sympathy, then this essay is ultimately about taking a stand. To make it clear, the younger son, the black sheep of the Biden clan, as the son and brother and father of Beau Biden II, the new generation of hope, wants to take every place he can on this stage of victory.