Young drug dealers cope with love, loss and voracious smack habits in this scintillating saga of Chicago’s lowlife demimonde.
Michael Lira is a decent kid from a working-class Italian-American family, just trying to make enough money from petty crime to satisfy his heroin jones. He has an urban village backing him up, including his roommate, Sal, a fellow junkie who’s obsessed with film noir and constantly hatching ill-advised capers; their boyhood friend, Dante, a former high school football star who’s into old-school self-destruction with booze; and Dante’s girlfriend (and Michael’s secret lover), Lila, a struggling artist who does sex shows on the side. They party, abuse substances and ponder their feckless lives in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, a hipster enclave that the author depicts with wonderfully atmospheric precision. (Michael and Sal’s tribal animus against yuppie gentrifiers knows no bounds.) After a B&E goes hilariously wrong, Michael decides to shape up; he industriously builds his drug-dealing business, swears off personal use of everything except marijuana and cocaine, and invests money with one of his customers, a financial adviser whose amoral hustling puts Michael’s to shame. His life soars into easy money, hot sex and ravishing highs—with the ever-present threat of arrest, overdose or a relapse that spells helpless dissolution. Writing with a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a keen eye for social nuance in every setting from housing projects to chic galleries, Mendius makes this classic junkie opera feel fresh and believable. His portrait of the drug industry is fascinating in its matter-of-fact detail—Michael’s supplier is an upstanding ghetto family business—as is his rendering of the psychology of addiction as it swells from seductive whisper to unappeasable tyranny. In the background is a vivid sketch of the Clinton-era dot-com boom; everyone is on the make, drenched in delusions they know aren’t real yet can’t shake off. Mendius’ prose is colorful and evocative but suffused with irony, hangdog humor and muted pathos; he makes a lurid subculture both raucously entertaining and profoundly real.
A superb tale of the druggie lifestyle, by a writer with talent to burn.