An adjunct professor falls prey to addiction.
The prolific Havel (Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt, 2016, etc.) changes key in his latest novel, a chamber piece about friendship and drugs. Archie, the narrator, is a study in low self-esteem. He second-guesses himself, the people around him, and those friends who share his skin color (Archie is black) and who want to aspire to something other than second-class status. “I was making all types of mistakes at the bank,” Archie tells readers just after they meet him, “so I just resigned, because I knew I was incompetent.” Most mornings, on the way to his new job as a postal clerk, he drives his best friend, Reginald Meeks, to Reginald’s own job as an adjunct professor at a local school. Reginald is a dreamer and an intellectual but he’s also “forever a part of the temporary workers’ economy,” the fate of so many adjuncts in America. Things seem to be looking up for Reginald when he falls for Wonder Robins, a white student with an open mind. Archie is suspicious of his friend’s race-mixing, making for an uncomfortable conversation and a difficult read. But Archie changes his opinion entirely once he sees Reginald falling for Bianca instead, a party girl from the neighborhood who drugs Reginald (first with Ecstasy, then with cocaine) and violently seduces him. As Reginald falls into a downhill spiral, Archie—ostensibly a mere narrator—emerges as the tale’s most complex character, in some ways more engaging than Reginald. Archie laments “unschooled blacks with amazing potential wasted on the refuse of popular music and culture” while at the same time rolling his eyes at his friend’s aspirations: “By the time it takes to give a solid course in Black History, we’ll all be brainwashed and won’t know what our history is anyway.” The plot moves swiftly and the pages turn, but what keeps the reader most engaged is Archie in his endless contradictions: is he a supportive friend or a selfish saboteur? Despite a tendency to fall back on the same plot devices (various characters secretly drug one another a bit too often here), this story remains intriguing for the most part.
An absorbing novel of destructive love, false friends, and the cruelty of fate.