An autobiographical novel about how violence and drugs dominate a young man’s life.
Author and motivational speaker Welch’s raw, impressive debut novel follows Moses Welch, a desperate, downtrodden young drug dealer whose life is patterned on the writer’s own. Welch notes that he had a hard-knocks youth spent on the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey, aka “Brick City, because we go hard.” With little setup, the novel begins with Moses, who’s fully ensconced in the seedy life of the city, spending his nights selling tiny bags of heroin (“diesel”) and harboring hopes of leaving the business after he manages his own “medicine” habit. He has a college degree and aspirations of writing a novel about the streets, but the lure of the drug trade keeps him from leaving that life behind. Welch adds rich texture to the narrative, backtracking often to Moses’ poorly parented boyhood, the birth of his son Haneef, and his clean-living high school days reading classic literature and promising to become a published writer. The nonsequential timeline is erratically arranged and slows the book’s momentum, but the flashbacks crucially establish Moses’ hardscrabble history. When he was 9, his mother died from cancer, and a few years later, he began taking drugs to seem tough and get acceptance. Deep down, however, Moses knew there had to be a way out: “I didn’t want to smoke weed,” he laments. “I didn’t want to take pills and nod. I didn’t want to go to jail. But it seemed like I couldn’t do anything about any of it.” An act of violence finally pushes him into rehab programs, where he gratefully achieves clarity. Moses’ incredible journey into and away from street life is motivating and liberating. However, Welch’s material is not for everyone. In particular, the author’s intense, stark depiction of drug addiction and violence may prove difficult reading for those who are unaccustomed to it.
A riveting, no-holds-barred chronicle of gritty city culture.