A lurid chronicle of a young man’s slow decline into heroin addiction; this novel, the author’s debut, was originally self published.
The gateway drug for Luke isn’t alcohol or marijuana, but midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When we first meet the hero, he’s an awkward Atlanta teenager obsessed with sex and fed up with the way his stepfather, Victor, abuses his mother and younger brother. His escape hatch is a girl who introduces him to the folks who live for the cult film, and through them he quickly discovers the pleasures of weed, coke and LSD. But those three drugs eventually lose their glamour for Luke, and within two years he has dropped out of school and is shooting heroin. Daniels’ nearly artless style deflects overdramatization, with Luke plainly relating every bad move, every fit of anger toward his family and every moment of self-degradation. (A series of chapters in which he’s a film extra playing an imprisoned Union soldier is as allegorical as matters get.) Daniels’ pacing is strong as well; the episodic chapters, covering about four years in Luke’s life in the early ’90s (Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the O.J. trial and the Oklahoma City bombing are mentioned), make plain how slow the path to addiction is, yet how quickly it swallows a person up. The problem with all this verisimilitude, though, is that it doesn’t give Daniels much to work with: Luke’s life is a tiny one, circumscribed around scoring drugs, taking drugs, finding money to score drugs (a job laying flooring gives way to less dignified methods of getting money) and hanging out with druggy friends. Once Luke is deep into junkiedom halfway through the novel, Daniels often slips into a then-this-happened brand of storytelling which gets into the grotesque details of track marks and ODs but is void of characterization. In the end, the novel lacks a narrative worthy of its candor.
Affecting in its guileless way, if ultimately predictable.