PROBLEMS by Jade Sharma


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The sardonic story of one woman’s eating disorder and drug abuse.

Maya, the appealing protagonist of this aptly titled debut novel, is not OK. Her husband, Peter, is an alcoholic; her mother is dying of multiple sclerosis; her late father gave her no attention or affection while he was alive; she is having an affair with a comparably unloving father figure, her professor; she has been unable to get pregnant, despite desperately wanting a child; she is anorexic, living on, at most, 400 calories’ worth of peach yogurt a day; and, on top of all this, or maybe because of it, she’s been regularly using heroin—a “chipper”—since she was 18. At first, Maya tries to keep her habit minimal, never using more than three days in a row. But when Peter leaves her, those boundaries vanish; she thinks to herself, “Just be a junkie now.” To earn money for drugs, she cruises Craigslist for men willing to pay for dates and intimate encounters. And so begins a cycle of varyingly violent sex, extreme heroin use, and lost days. The ease of such a life leaves little motivation to stop. “Also,” she writes, “I wasn’t thin and blond. I could have cleaned up if I was.” In graceful prose, the narrator recounts the hours spent high: “Sounds folded back into the world, moving on, light-years from the living room where I lay around, hardly living.” The novel is written so well that the relentless and destructive rhythm of heroin abuse seems calming, metaphysical, and occasionally even funny. Sharma's descriptions are vivid and sage—“Sometimes it felt like there was blackness underneath everything. Like a Rothko painting, how the blackness bleeds through”—lulling readers into a similarly opiate state to which they will readily succumb and from which, like the protagonist, it will take some time to recover.

An absorbing novel carried by a seemingly hopeless protagonist you will want to befriend and save.

Pub Date: July 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-56689-442-5
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2016


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