Naseem’s gritty debut follows a Christian woman recovering from an abusive marriage rife with drugs and physical violence.
Annie Wickham’s bad luck with marriage has been nothing short of a living nightmare. The God-fearing San Francisco librarian’s first attempt at marital bliss began disintegrating after several years of her turning into little more than the “alluring possession” of a selfish, belittling Northern California biochemist. Years later, at 35, Annie met “sweet and funny” Cleo, a man whose manic, methamphetamine-fueled melodrama dominated the next decade of her life, embittering her toward men and future relationships. Adding tension and depth to Naseem’s story, the narrative oscillates between Annie’s struggle to find balance despite multiple failed marriages and Cleo’s perspective as a homeless junkie, barefoot and destitute, trolling city streets and back alleys for his next fix. Conversely, however, these narrative shifts can also prove disorienting, as is the case with the interjecting voice of Sylvie, a local prostitute with a past who becomes obsessed with Cleo. Some characters aren’t immediately identifiable at the beginning of a new narrative sequence, and it can take a few pages to get back into the story, particularly with wheelchair-bound Tim, a drifter who befriends Cleo; his past is equally grim. Annie cautiously restarts her own life with the aid of a kind drug counselor named Joe, who teaches her how to love again. But Cleo’s increasingly neurotic attempts to rehabilitate himself and reconnect with Annie coalesce in the novel’s dark conclusion. As much a cautionary tale as a work of fiction, Naseem’s harrowing novel pulses with the pain of betrayal and the dire consequences of substance abuse. Sensitive readers may be overwhelmed by the edgy, expletive-dense narrative, but for those who don’t mind its murky premise, the novel hums with raw humanity.
A riveting, intense portrait of substance abuse and the havoc it can wreak on family and friends.