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by Jim Owens

Pub Date: May 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-578-67508-4
Publisher: Self

A rebellious dropout rejects normalcy and finds himself immersed in the 1970s drug scene in this novel.

Owens’ story opens with a distraught ninth grader barreling through the corridors of his high school convinced that “Christian Cannibals” are intent on devouring him. The boy is Wilbert Stokes, who his teachers discover is in the midst of a drug overdose. After undergoing court-ordered substance abuse therapy, Wilbert, now 18, finds himself sitting before a psychiatrist explaining that he has no intention of “running with the straight crowd” and that he strives for absolute freedom. Wilbert sets up as a dealer selling PCP out of a filthy, broken-down cottage in the dying railroad town of Hampton, Indiana. The novel is a mournful waltz through the seamy underbelly of ’70s America—one of skid rows and strip clubs. Wilbert’s position is a precarious one as he observes his own deterioration, succinctly described as the “haunted merry-go-round” of addiction. Surrounded by decay, will Wilbert persevere on the deadly path he believes leads to freedom, or will salvation mean turning “straight”? This is an unflinchingly grimy book, containing unpleasant imagery that readers will struggle to forget, from the “weathered whore” seen “smoking a cigarette from a hole in her cancerous neck” to the “scattered trio of feminine napkins whose ‘period’ of usefulness had long expired.” Owens provides an energetic taxonomy of demimonde habitués: “Sexed-up sugar-daddy-seeking hopefuls, scraggly sots, horny hags, and a variety of other swizzled low-brows.” Wild bouts of vivid descriptions are countered with a contrastingly sober narrative that pinpoints the social, economic, and historical forces that shape the characters’ lives: “The former participated in white flight; the latter could not afford the jump to the burgeoning southern suburbs, where white utopia was experiencing a renaissance of sorts.” The result is a multifaceted view of life “on the skids” given a further psychological dimension by the insertion of extracts from Wilbert’s journal: “I kill the capitalist pigs in my mind every day, until the rest of my poor friends rise up to join me, and we slay the beast in flesh.” The author’s prose may turn some readers’ stomachs, but this is a compellingly written, richly textured story that penetrates the heart of ’70s drug culture.

A thoughtfully conceived and boldly described drug tale.