A sepulchral novel about a family legacy of drugs, crime, and hopelessness.
Paul Stocker’s mother is a heroin addict, and he was born on the street, already addled by ceaseless cravings for the drug. He was also born physically debilitated—unable to walk or speak and permanently confined to a wheelchair with limited use of his arms. Paul’s cousins, Jordan and Adam, are also junkies and spend their days either languorously high or frenetically looking for money to pay for their next fixes. Paul, the narrator of this nihilistic tale, distinguishes Adam’s cynicism from Jordan’s tender boyishness, but both are essentially amoral, too addled by their addictions to make room for empathy or principles in their lives. They both cycle in and out of jail for all manner of petty larceny—sometimes in cahoots with their mothers—and each is prepared to snitch on the other. Paul dispassionately describes the depravity, detailing Adam and Jordan’s robbery and beating of an old man as if it’s the most quotidian act. Paul is capable of experiencing horror, though, so he loses himself in reading—a cerebral refuge from the squalor. When Jordan gleefully rapes a young girl in front of him, Paul reflexively chooses to “make fives,” a version of counting sheep that allows him some needed distraction. Overall, Paul is less a protagonist than a narrative medium—a passive witness to human degradation and sometimes a participant, tagging along to a burglary and other mayhem. Debut author Meyers has a knack for depicting the gruesome depths of human existence, which seems even uglier because it unfurls so listlessly. He also ably describes Chuterville, the former boomtown that serves as the stage for this salaciousness; once bankrolled by J.P. Morgan, it’s now little more than a market for the drug trade—“to all intents and purposes, a narcopolis.” There’s virtually no plot, however, which mirrors the purposeless meandering of the characters but will likely bore readers. Worse, there’s no joy, and that relentless deprivation makes this short novel an exhausting read.
A novel that skillfully captures the gloominess of drug addiction but leaves little space for even a glimmer of hope.