This autobiographical novel about a year spent as Hunter S. Thompson’s personal assistant contains crazy highs (of course) and many dismal lows.
This is a harrowing book, depicting Thompson (here called Walker Reade) in the twilight of his career, with his writing powers waning and self-esteem in peril. He needs an assistant—and hires only young, female ones—to help him stay on track to finish a book. Della Pietra’s narrator, aspiring writer Alley Russo, wants to escape her dreary bartending gig on Long Island and the low expectations of her blue-collar family. She arrives in Colorado to find a group of hangers-on trying to keep Walker happy by laughing at his jokes and sharing his cocaine, and she feels the pressure to fall into lock step. The extent to which she does is what makes this story so horrifying, as well as fascinating. Alley clicks with Walker, and she captures his surly, blunt, occasionally brilliant dialogue with a writer’s ear. She joins in with the drug-taking and constant drinking, having been told it’s part of her duties, and also keeps him writing—an achievement in this atmosphere. But Walker has become a mean drunk and submits the women around him to a lot of abuse. He insists Alley dress sexier, even driving her to a local mall and giving judgments on outfits she models for him. He calls her “moron” one minute and has his hand on her knee the next. That an intelligent Ivy League graduate chooses to go along with this treatment, feeling there’s no other path away from anonymity, gives the book an undercurrent of horror. That said, it has the allure of a car crash—you’ll keep reading as Walker’s antics become more outrageous and his mood more foul. There's also something poignant in the vulnerability he occasionally reveals to his young assistant; they’re attracted to each other, but this is one area Della Pietra seems to have gauged as too dangerous to tap. Nevertheless, their intimacy grows even in a cloud of hangovers, freshly mixed drinks, and the ever present drugs. At one point, Alley muses that Walker can’t give up his wildly indulgent lifestyle because it’s too much a part of his public identity. It's simply sad, though, that a writer of Walker's caliber thinks the main thing he has to contribute to American letters is being constantly wasted.
A novel that shows our nation's path from refreshing nonconformity to end-times careerism.