HARLEY LOCO by Rayya Elias


A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk Rock, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side
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A junkie’s-eye view of three decades of addiction in Detroit and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

First-time author Elias, who has been clean since 1997, has enough distance to speak on her past unashamedly, with cleareyed intelligence and without judging her younger self too harshly. The youngest child of a prosperous Syrian family that immigrated to the suburbs of Detroit in the 1960s when she was 8, the author suggests her addictions were a response to the disruption that alienated her from her happy childhood in Syria. Her perspective remained that of the feisty little girl who fought back against bullies and earned the respect of her peers through a kind of reckless experimentation and a constant need to prove herself. “I always knew I couldn’t be ‘the best of the best,’ ” she writes. “I think at a very young age I decided to become ‘the best of the worst,’ which seemed to attract even more attention.” Rather than take the path toward bourgeois security taken by her older siblings, Elias started a post-punk band, earning a living as a hairdresser. In New York, her dual careers seemed ready to take off, but her personal life was more complicated. While living unhappily with an adoring boyfriend, she fell deeply in love with a married woman who declined to leave her husband. Elias self-medicated with ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and Valium—anything to ease the pain—and soon found herself helplessly addicted. When snorting heroin became too expensive, a punk-scene friend reluctantly introduced her to mainlining. Thus began a descent into street life, homelessness, petty crime and jail time, alternating with temporary spans of redemption and health followed by heart-breaking relapse.

Though slow to get going, the second half of this memoir is strong stuff, with some truly amazing stories well-told.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-78516-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2013


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