Helton (The Jugheads, 2014, etc.) wanders through a series of reminiscences of drugged states, dead-end jobs, and “writing feverishly,” trying to make it as an author.
In this memoir—labeled as such even though the author has altered his name as well as those of his associates and added fictional incidents—Helton roughly follows “Jake” from 1983, when he dropped out of the University of Texas, until 1989, when he re-enrolled. Two threads unite the episodic narrative: the narrator’s stumbling into and out of a number of menial jobs, which allow the constant consumption of marijuana and other drugs, and his unhappy relationship with his wife, Susan. The sections of the story about his jobs painting industrial buildings, picking up railroad ties for future sale, and selling pumpkins and turf from the side of a road have a certain rough charm even if he sometimes seems to be slumming. Quick sketches of fellow workers, such as the “long-haired-loser-hillbilly-racist” who assisted Helton in painting a baptismal pool with “poisonous epoxy,” are minidramas in themselves, and the author demonstrates that he was self-aware enough to recognize the detriments of constantly remaining high. The thread involving his ex-wife is less compelling and seems motivated more by a desire for literary revenge than for a true understanding of their relationship. Susan goes from a fellow high schooler with an “insatiable sex drive” (the results of which Helton describes in excruciating detail) to a cheating, lying harpy against whom Helton has the final word. Throughout, the prose is hampered by the author’s frequent use of overly familiar words like “nice” and “fun.” It’s possible that Helton has deliberately assumed a flat, disaffected tone and a drab vocabulary, but it’s difficult to discern the purpose, and many readers will be turned off by the degenerate characters and the author’s inability to describe his life with precision.
A series of scattered “dispatches” that fail to cohere.