This is your book. This is your book on drugs.
Our daily lives, as Aldous Huxley—duly quoted in the epigraph to short story writer and memoirist Helton’s newest (Man and Beast, 2001, etc.)—once observed, range from the tortured to the tedious. Either extreme begs to be escaped from, and lo, whence drugs. We take Helton’s “Jake” to be an alter ego for the author; if he is not, then this book, categorized as fiction but with matter-of-factness that suggests extensive, em, field research, as well as narrative flatness, is a masterwork of close observation, a new rejoinder to S. E. Hinton’s work half a century ago. Helton has been likened to Bukowski, but there was an exuberance to Bukowski; so far as we know, he has not been likened to the Denis Johnson of Jesus’ Son, whose characters had some small measure of self-awareness and enough oomph for us to be interested in them. Alas, Helton’s tone is as affectless as the Texas plains, where Jake does a little poking about, earning a few bucks in construction here and bumming there, just enough to land a score. He starts off a cipher toking a little boo—“I was extremely curious about drugs as they were so verboten in my own home”—and progresses, via methadone and crystal meth, to the mad-pimp lifestyle and thence collapse without much emotional freight, as if it were all happening to someone else. Perhaps this is intentional; perhaps not. In defense of the narrative, however, the author does serve up a good recipe for how not to live one’s life: “two twenty-four canister boxes [of nitrous oxide] at Planet K or restaurant supply stores every day,” followed by a little weed and “only three Vicodin and two Flexeril.” Kids, don’t try it at home.
The takeaway: Drugs are boring. Find something interesting to do—and something interesting to read.