A teenage hippie in 1970s America finds himself in the midst of mobsters, outlaw bikers, and general mayhem in Hicks’ debut thriller.
Nate Hester didn’t have a destination in mind when he left Milwaukee on a hitchhiking trip. But a few weeks later, he’s broke and a hundred miles away from home. He soon connects with Spider Kowalski, a member of the Cleveland branch of Hells Angels. Both Nate and Spider hitch a ride with two men who later leave them involuntarily drugged in a stolen car and steal Spider’s $2,000 stash of bennies. Nate travels with Spider to Ohio, where Spider introduces Nate to his biker lifestyle by, for starters, beating him. Though a proud hippie, Nate has only tried weed, but that eventually changes once he starts popping pills, initially for his injured ribs. Before long, he’s dabbling in harder drugs and engaging in Hells Angels’ often violent business, moving from a mere “hang-around” to a potential prospect. When someone tracks down the men who ripped off Spider, the biker has a chance to recover his cash and maybe exact some revenge. Unfortunately, Nate’s involvement deepens and becomes even more dangerous when it turns out one of the thieves is connected to the mob. In a story brimming with baddies, it’s not surprising that nearly every character is unlikable. Nate, however, is a meek but sympathetic protagonist. He’s passive not because of principles, but to avoid a beat down (he has a backstory of being bullied in school). Hicks couples the dialogue-laden narrative with minimal descriptions. But the condensed prose effectively depicts Nate’s attraction to drugs (heroin “cures” anxieties, regrets, and fears) as well as the agonizing downside (profuse pain and nausea coming off a high). Nate’s experience is relentlessly harrowing, resulting in a largely humorless story that boasts a convincing twist or two during the final act.
A grim, competent tale that memorably depicts a world of crime.