In this debut musical novel featuring several songs, the protagonist chronicles his free-form, oddly contented lifestyle among addicts, drug dealers, and prostitutes—a subculture he finds surprisingly appealing and profound.
An erudite, first-person narrator called Mark (which may not be his real name) hails from an upscale, college-educated background. In addition, he has worked in market research and teaching hospitals. Yet Mark has unapologetically (if rather inexplicably; possibly just for the walk-on-the-wild-side factor) immersed himself in an indolent existence of continual crack use and encounters with drug dealers in the hotels and motels of an unnamed American city. Vice is so rife that paraphernalia and wisdom come dispensed via a Whole Crack Catalog, and Mark finds the ubiquitous ex-convicts, prostitutes, junkies, and perverts surrounding him to be colorful, intellectually stimulating company, not cheap gangsters. The hero is particularly smitten with Bonnie, a tall, big-boned, divorced, middle-aged hooker who, despite herself, seems to captivate all men, regular customers who constantly orbit around her as “boyfriends” on various levels. Mark deliriously overintellectualizes Bonnie until another streetwalker plain-talks him into realizing she’s just all about the money. That’s basically the overarching plotline of Pettus’ tale. The author conceived this comic narrative as a “musical,” with accompanying embedded songs. His country/blues/rock harmonies should appeal to fans of such melodic outlaws as David Allan Coe, but the short book certainly holds its own minus the tunes. The individual chapter vignettes of misbehavior, whoring, and narcotics economics are wry, amusing, and free of lamentation or pity. One is reminded of Chuck Palahniuk with more humanity and less freak-sideshow shock elements—or what Hubert Selby Jr. might have written had he been channeling Garrison Keillor.
More than zero: adventures in drugs and prostitute girlfriends, warmly related as if that were a good thing.