A debut novel chronicles a mother-son relationship through difficult times.
The story begins in 1973 with a young girl named Maria Vareno. Not only is Maria’s family poor, but her father suffers from mental disorders. After he’s laid off from his job, Maria often comes home to find her father “screaming and crawling on the floor from his hallucinations.” Later, Maria finds some comfort in a relationship with the muscle car-driving Clint Michaels. The couple are barely out of school when they have their first son, James, in 1985. After having their second son and marrying, the two set out on their own. As the young family moves to a larger living space, the narration shifts to James. A talented athlete at a young age, he has great hopes for his future. Popular with girls in middle school and a top sports prospect in high school, he feels greatness should be well within his reach. As his parents’ marriage falls apart, however, he begins a downward spiral that seems to have no end. From smoking a few cigarettes with a group of bad kids to becoming a full-blown burnout (“Fuck school,” James says to himself), he seems ready to hit rock bottom. Quick paced and concise (“Very addicting; I usually couldn’t move from the relaxation,” James says of his experience with Percocet), the story mainly focuses on James and his many misadventures with drugs and the police. While his transition from regular kid to public menace is certainly swift, it is nevertheless believable. Much of James’ introspection leans toward the obvious (in the throes of his drug use, he wonders, “Why was I such a depressed young man—will this feeling ever go away?”). But he remains as real as any like-minded troubled youth in any American town. Absent any moralizing, Roberts’ tale leaves readers to draw their own conclusions about the unfortunate turns a life can take and the willingness (or lack thereof) individuals have to overcome them. Readers who see in James a familiar face are likely to find themselves following his story to its conclusion.
Poignant and lifelike, this book boldly examines a youth’s struggles with drug use.