The continuation of O’Neill’s autobiographical debut, Digging the Vein (2006), even more caustic than its predecessor.
After a quick recount of his descent into a massive opium habit and marriage to similarly fixed Susan, the unnamed narrator confesses the nature of his troubles. “I needed to know that Death was here, in the room, and that I was too fast, too young, and too smart for him.” Fleeing Los Angeles, the newlyweds return home to London only to enter the institutional nightmare of the city’s overflowing methadone clinics, from which the whip-smart but self-destructive musician reports with fascinating candor. He manipulates his physician while simultaneously using 12-step meetings to find drug dealers to feed his compulsions. Yet he still pretends to be part of society, whether shoplifting from his record store job or practicing his craft as a member of fly-by-night rock bands. While most of the action focuses on the desperate mechanics of addiction, O’Neill also paints London as a character and co-conspirator, illuminating the filthy squalor of council slums and the florescent detritus of a broken system. This is no redemption song. “The lie at the heart of treatment centers, the recovery industry, and self help groups is that that life off drugs is any better than life on them,” the narrator declares. “A preposterous idea. The two states coexist in a parallel sense—to say that one is preferable to the other is to miss the point entirely.” He struggles to break the kick-then-relapse cycle, but fails until he meets and falls in love with punk-rock princess Vanessa from New York. Call it a junkie fairy tale: Boy meets girl, gets clean and lives.
The whole truth with no reservations: not a pretty story, but a rare telling.