Esquire writer at large Sager (Deviant Behavior, 2008, etc.) collects some of his bleakest investigative pieces in a downbeat but engrossing volume.
The author chronicles the marginalized, forgotten and despised in cool, transparent prose that eschews judgment and melodrama. Horribly wounded young veterans of the Iraq War stagnate in a stateside dormitory, bodies damaged beyond repair, their futures uncertain—yearning, incredibly, to get back to the fight, wistfully watching videos of suicide bombings and firefights on YouTube. Young Puerto Rican boys living in abject poverty devote themselves to fighting pit bulls to the death in a Philadelphia slum. American expats drift through Thailand in a haze of lassitude and cheap sex. A spoiled middle-class kid succumbs to heroin in New York while once-proud gangbangers in Venice, Calif., forgo blood vendettas in favor of staying high on crack. The news is bad even when Sager profiles a group of people with extremely high IQs, finding most of them to be alienated, frustrated and lonely. Ironically, he shows the morbidly obese making a better go of things, dealing with a world scaled for smaller beings with mordant humor and admirable resourcefulness. A few stories fail to maintain interest. A snapshot of Al Sharpton causing trouble at Liberty Island is vivid and funny, but seems out of place here, as does a standard celebrity puff-piece on NBA star Kobe Bryant. A mild look at Hawaiian meth addicts doesn’t make much of an impact within the context of the book’s other devastating portraits of drug addiction. The collection ends with a strange, self-indulgent account of the author’s quest to track down Marlon Brando on the actor’s private island. Sager’s voice is very different here—personal, full of pain, uncertainty and frustration—but his tale of self-delusion and obsession makes a fitting end-piece for a clear-eyed, upsetting volume whose primary subject is outsider culture and its discontents.
Difficult but rewarding reading.