A dark story of crime, addiction, and homelessness among young Native Americans whose only escape is by way of the grave.
They’re not much older than the teenage protagonists of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, but though they occupy some of the same literary turf, Wurth’s (Buckskin Cocaine, 2017, etc.) principal characters are harder bitten and more obviously doomed. Matthew is living on the edge of the Navajo Nation, doing his best to drink himself into an early grave, when he meets Chris, who takes him to Albuquerque and enrolls him as a member of a Native American gang, putting him at war with other gangs. Chris is tough, a stone killer who gets his kicks going out on drive-by shooting missions: “He said it was like shooting fish in a barrel. He also said it was more exciting than smash and grabs, because that rarely involved people.” In the amoral confines of the gang, Matthew, Chris, and a few other young people steal, commit random acts of violence, sell drugs, and spend their days waiting for something big to happen. When it does, it is explosive, whether scraps with rivals or the triangle Matthew forms with Chris’ girlfriend, Maria, who lures him with bleak promises: “We can be junkies together. That would be nice.” It’s no Romeo and Juliet, though it plays at the edges of a conventional love story, and it does not end remotely well for anyone concerned. Wurth’s story is sometimes obvious—it’s a rather heavy bit of symbolism that Matthew would be taking his cues from a “tattered copy of Dante’s Inferno,” which of course gives the book its title—but it’s told with grim assuredness, the interactions among the characters real. A literal trigger warning: The book is spattered with violence and its aftereffects, but not a bit seems out of place.
Expertly told; a well-crafted portrait of lives lived without hope in the shadow of death.