Brilliant and terrifying evocation of the crack monster devouring Washington, D.C., coupled with addicts' biographies. Tidwell (The Ponds of Kalambayi, 1990)—white, suburban, 26 years old—went to work as a counselor in an inner-city halfway house for addicts on the same day that George Bush, promising a kinder, gentler America, was inaugurated. That year—1989—would see Washington with a higher homicide rate than that of Beirut; the imposition of martial law; drug czar William Bennett's masked, shotgun-toting shock troops; and 25 percent of the city's young black men in the prison system. Tidwell, a gifted storyteller, relates how, his first day on the job, he naively asked Jake—a recovering addict—what ``rock'' (crack) was; Jake's second lesson for Tidwell was hitting the deck when the nightly gunfire began outside. As Tidwell began to know these men—Vietnam vets, federal clerks, ex-cops, construction workers—who had been caught in crack's net and lost all, he wondered how they were able to stay clean against all reason: When they left the house, they would be offered crack by dealers before they had gone a block; without carfare, some walked 15 miles a day, day after day, vying for jobs that paid five dollars an hour; and virtually all had broken families. Their trust of Tidwell deepening, the men introduced him to Narcotics Anonymous, an underground, self-help fellowship modelled after AA, which silently has grown apace with the drug epidemic. Tidwell's description of Bennett's troops forcing dealers to retreat to new areas throughout the city—ironically insuring that at some time virtually every teenager would have a 24-hour drug market on or near his block—juxtaposed with his passionate stories of addicts rebuilding their lives with NA meetings, makes unforgettable reading and an unequivocal damnation of politicians' get-tough promises. Unique and important in recent addiction literature: a very fine achievement.
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