Lucas Mann’s brother, Josh, was a mosaic of identities: Friend, brute, workout warrior, son, musician, writer (self-identified). Above all, Josh was a man of great ambition; he wanted to live a life that made people take notice. Fame, wealth, and luxury goods were tangible symbols of reached potential in his eyes. In May 2000, Josh overdosed on heroin. Suddenly, he was none of these things. Ambition was irrelevant. The only identity that mattered to others was the one he wanted least: addict.
Mann was 13 at the time, nearly 20 years younger than Josh, and for him Josh’s death became the “axis on which all other stories move.” Lord Fear operates in a similar fashion. In the aftermath of overdose, for Mann and others, Josh became a myth. “People were feeding me ideas of good and bad and redemption and all that, and I knew that never felt right,” Mann says. Lord Fear is his attempt to sever the narrative of Josh’s life from his death through recreated memories, sourced from interviews with family and Josh’s friends over the years.
“Addiction narratives often come from a place of such certainty, which I think is weird,” says Mann. “There’s either the addict that has lived these experiences and has come out on the other side, or there’s somebody who is on the frontlines of trying to deal with that addiction and they have the certainty of that perspective. I was coming at it from the periphery. It was this thing that was whispered, but was never the narrative I was allowed to access.”
The recreated stories from Mann’s interviews beautifully or messily or optimistically or necessarily blend into one another, like memory itself, never letting the reader settle on one fragment of Josh for long. “The book is a combination of the stories people told me and what their stories make me think,” Mann explains. “It’s a weird give and take of shared memory.” In one frame, Josh exhibits extreme chivalry; in the next, alarming cruelty. At times, his actions are downright deplorable, and yet, one cannot help but be drawn to him. “There was a force of personality that was ineffable and hard to describe,” Mann explains. “Part of it is that a death like that shifts the story so much.”
One of the struggles for Mann in recreating these scenes was that the addiction narrative often fills in the gaps when memory falters. “That’s the tragic, but also the fascinating thing about addiction narratives is that they can’t be divorced from the ending that everybody knows is there,” says Mann. “Even moments that wouldn’t have felt like warning signs line up in memory as warning signs. That pull felt really present throughout the whole process.”
Time was also a major part of the process. Most of the interviews were done years ago, allowing for multiple perspectives to seep into each scene. “I think you can feel that tension in the book of me almost arguing with people over his memories,” Mann proffers. “There was a double-remove for me because so much of the research happened so long ago. The stories that people told me feel totally different then than they do now. The fact that so much of this story is memory, there’s something more malleable and volatile about it on the page. It’s weighted in this faraway sense.”
As he reconstructed Josh’s life on the page, however, Mann knew the story was still missing one key element: Josh’s voice. It was then that he decided to revisit Josh’s journals, from which the title “Lord Fear” is derived. “Those were his words, and I like the fact that they’re such good, complex words,” Mann says. “You get a sense of how enigmatic he was, and the tension of power and fear and how hard it is to express those dueling emotions.”
Including Josh’s words into the book was its own struggle, though. Mann admits the story felt incomplete narratively and morally without Josh’s voice, but he also recognizes that this is not necessarily the story Josh would have wanted told. “Writing about other people, you’re hijacking that thing, in some way,” Mann confesses. “This is his story that I think there’s value in telling, but I’m also taking his story that I felt was important to express. That’s a weird tension to reconcile. Frankly, I haven’t yet.”
Mann’s memory of Josh will always be in flux. Cracks in the mosaic will fill in over time, pieces rearranged. The dedication page of the book explains this continuous journey with powerful brevity: For Josh: In loving, incomplete memory. It is impossible to separate addiction from the memory of an addict’s life, but for Mann, at least, the picture of his brother has become more complete, and in many ways, more honest. The myth of Josh has been shattered, for better and worse. “He was trying,” Mann says. “That extends beyond trying to be clean, but trying sincerely to be the person he wanted to be, to be noticed, to succeed.”
Alex Layman is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.