Donovan (Julius Winsome, 2006, etc.) imagines a drugged-up dystopia.
Sunless, the protagonist of this harrowing little fable set in the not-too-distant future, begins his story as his family awaits the birth of his little brother. Told in the naively poetic voice of a child, these recollections are hauntingly sweet. But the longed-for baby dies before he is born. Sunless’s mother descends into despair, and she masks her desolation with pills. Sunless leaps ahead to young adulthood, but his voice remains that of a child, as if his mother’s drugged torpor has deprived him of the nurturance he needed to grow. After his father’s death, he begins sneaking a few of his mother’s pills. Then he discovers meth. His innocence remains intact, but it acquires a frightening, paranoid edge, and Sunless’s descent ends in murder. Out of money, out of drugs and utterly alone, Sunless offers himself as an experimental subject to Pharmalak. This company’s philosophy is that the “taking of medication is a lifelong pursuit, because life is potentially a long illness.” Their marketing plans incorporate drugs to fit any situation—including color-coded chemicals to correspond with the nation’s terror-alert system. When Sunless arrives at Pharmalak, they’ve just developed a new drug to treat everything from “Sudden Irritability Syndrome” to “Aggravated Sensitivity Disorder,” and Sunless will become the first person to take it. Donovan suggests that psychotropic drugs are not just infantilizing but ultimately annihilating, that the emotional homogenization they provide is a type of regression that leads to the eventual uncreation of the user. His America is a place ruled by conformity and escapism, by religion, consumerism and dispassionate inhumanity. Donovan isn’t really saying anything that hasn’t already been said by Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess and William S. Burroughs, and, in an age when cartoon ads for antidepressants appear on prime-time TV, this tale hardly requires the creative prescience exhibited by those earlier doomsayers. But Donovan does offer the annals of dismal fantasy a powerfully resonant narrative rendered in a compellingly original voice.
A lyrically depressing vision of things to come.