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edited by Gary Phillips & Jervey Tervalon

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-888451-75-0
Publisher: Akashic

Seventeen never-before-published tales starring cocaine and its low-rent cousin, crack.

Editors Phillips (Monkology, 2004, etc.) and Tervalon (Dead Above Ground, 2000, etc.) collected stories from a variety of writers and grouped them into sections representing the four pillars of the cocaine-lifestyle: death, addiction, corruption and dealers. The result, with the exception of two literary stand-outs and one notable debut, is a mixed-bag of tales and portraits of paranoia that do little more than prove that things don’t go better with coke. Thus, an Irish loser-user with a surplus of cocaine and cash can’t get past his sad-sack ruminations to save his own hide; a coke-snorting, love ’em and leave ’em ladies’ man loses his edge; a screenwriter in rehab regrets driving his truck through his soon-to-be ex-wife’s house; two addicts look on as a third neglects her children; at her mother’s pimp’s insistence, a child substitutes when Mama hightails it with a john and some blow; and so on, through ruined septums, burned-out nasal passages and other rather phlegmy activity. It’s punishing to read in one sitting. Nothing here approaches the elegiac understanding of addiction that Fitzgerald conveyed in “Babylon Revisited” or Annie Hall’siconic moment when Woody disperses a fortune’s worth of cocaine with one ill-timed achoo, although Laura Lippman’s story about two teenage mall-rats who, like, go on the crack-cocaine diet to drop a few dress sizes before the big dance, is a bright spot of humor in this mostly dour line-up. The literary exceptions are by Susan Straight and Jerry Stahl, whose stories transcend their thematic assignment to create addicts of impotent depth and, ultimately, pathos; and newcomer Detrice Jones, who writes from personal experience of dodging her addict-parents’ nightly attempts to steal her school-lunch money. That story’s authority makes many of the others read like rip-offs of somebody else’s real-life stash.

Just say no.