A junkie treads a wide and crooked path toward God in this frenzied tale of despair and redemption.
Abel, a bright kid from a well-off black family in a California university town, has two big problems. The first is a personality hobbled by fear, guilt and resentment. The second is the existential pain of being, which he first experiences during birth, when the pangs of delivery are alleviated by a jolt of Demerol–and so it is established that therapy and drugs will rule his chaotic life. By high school, Abel’s using and dealing pot, acid and mescaline, but what hits the spot is heroin’s â€œorgasm of peace and safety,” which returns him to â€œthe wombâ€¦the paradise from which he was exiled.” An inevitable downward spiral ensues. Abel occasionally detoxes in jail, rehab or the army; finds a job or builds a relationship, only to re-encounter heroin–or Dilaudid, Percodan or crack–and swan-dive into degradation, crime and betrayal. A latter-day Candide, Abel also partakes in the casual sex, drugs and spirituality of the post-1960s counterculture. He joins the cult of a Salvadoran messiah who claims to be â€œactually greater than God,” follows a â€œbreathatarian” diet guru who hopes to wean followers off food entirely and discovers â€œreawakening,” a new-age therapy that briefly leaves him feeling reborn. Hammond (Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Most Valuable Asset, 2002) paints an engrossing picture of a junkie’s desperation and a vigorous, if broad, satire of nutty modern pseudo-religions. But there’s no arc to the random, whirlwind narrative. The story is a circular roller coaster, repetitively elevating Abel to a promontory of stability or misguided enthusiasm, only to have him fall to a shrieking valley of despair. Abel’s final embrace of Christianity seems no more climactic than his other conversions to either religion or drugs.
A colorful tale of a long, strange trip that doesn’t really go anywhere.