COWARDS by W.A. Burgess


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 The latest example of that now-certified genre--the drug addict's purported memoir--Burgess's debut shares some of the raw energy of Trainspotting (novel and movie), but none of Irvine Welsh's verbal spunk. With its Beavis and Butthead dialogue, this fictional account of druggies in Seattle includes some self-conscious interludes that suggest its author's literary pretensions, including his claim to be writing on a ``stolen'' typewriter. Mitchell Slaughter, a drummer with The Otis Process, ingests, along with the rest of the band, a steady diet of pills, acid, pot, heroin, meth, coke--you name it. The only rule: No hard drugs during rehearsal, and even that falls by the way as the band disintegrates. One performance indicates their m.o.: They like to expose themselves onstage and feel vindicated when they're busted for it. Their reputation for violent debauchery also keeps interested record execs leery about signing the band. Hence their status as truly transgressive artists. Their ``proclivity for unusual scenes and the chance for violence'' leads them to all sorts of cheap thrills, and they scorn anyone who's not bedecked with tattoos, piercings, and black clothes. In one particularly vulgar episode, a band member pukes on a priest after nodding out in church while musing on Jesus as the ultimate junkie. Of course, the how-to's of copping and shooting take up much of the book. Mitchell runs into a mysterious psychic, Etta, and she becomes his hope for salvation, especially when she splits after witnessing an especially nasty scene. When one band member dies from an overdose, they dump his body in a park so the cops won't search the house. Soon after, they're dropped from a proposed tour, and the band scatters in despair. Mitchell takes to the road in search of Etta. Careful not to romanticize drug use, Burgess nevertheless seems proud of his been-there, done-that authenticity. There's little else to distinguish this sordid debut.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15503-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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