My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Selby Jr. follows four characters as they descend into the madness of addiction, in new york city, a journey the author knows well, having become addicted to morphine when he was suffering from tuberculosis as a merchant marine (and years later, heroin, which he recovered from in the late sixties). Harry and Tyrone are buddies caught in the lifestyle, embracing it at first, copping and selling dope, kicking back to enjoy the high, dreaming of some impossible free-wheeling wealth and luxury on top of some zion of dope… forced to face the danger in the streets, inevitable mishaps and kicking in the joint. Marion is Harry’s girlfriend, a wannabe artist who likes a small habit which grows and grows, only to push away all her old life’s ambitions and interests. The love affair is mostly content to stay in the confines of their apartment, saddled by the sad business of easing back, high and dreaming, making plans to open an café together, nodding and sleeping, happy plans in the head… then falling on hard times looking for money and drugs to fix. May have to get creative about it. Don’t expect a picnic, here, if you read Last Exit To Brooklyn (or saw the movie), you know this is a cautionary tale and all of it’s out in the open. I just love how Selby Jr.’s run-on prose moves freely in and out of headspace and lands like a kick in the gut between personalities. And how the characters seem to get over on themselves. Sarah is Harry’s mom and lives alone and dreams into the television and wants to be the lovely picture she once cut, to fit in that old red dress, and fancies she might lose some weight and make it in television. She starts on diet pills and goes mostly downhill from there. As flawed and impossibly dreaming as these characters are, the book was a page turner because I was not simply ambulance chasing, no, I really gave a hot damn about all 4 players and hoped against hope that they might figure themselves out and find a way out of hell and back to some decency and love and happiness. You never know. Addiction isn’t always a life sentence.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed reading Jim Carroll’s movement from all out junkie in NYC to mostly clean weedhead in California then traveling back to NYC to re-experience it like a challenge he was taking on for himself in his new sparkly dried out persona. – may he rest in peace – You almost think the kid didn’t stand much of a chance, hobnobbing with celebrity at Max’s and getting dissed by Warhol over the phone, because Warhol only wanted to talk to him when he was wired on speed (and recorded these phone calls apparently). Great street level perspective of NYC in the early seventies. Jim Carroll is an brutally honest sorta writer, so be prepared to go under carpets with him and hangout with fragments of cheese doodles and mites. Or inside a festering abscess. He certainly won’t glorify substance abuse or addiction, so you don’t need to worry about your children. Or do you? I found the first half of the book a little harder to get through, a lot of socializing with Ginsberg and name dropping (though anyone could be envious to hang out with William Burroughs and Bob Dylan for a night). Sometimes I felt he was writing to impress his celebrity buds. But mostly I admire Jim Carroll, I consider him a strong writer and the survivor we know by his Basketball Diaries. This book was supposed to be a sorta sequel to that one. He didn’t stand a chance as a kid himself going deep on the streets, yet he always respected the muse and was a real creative mind, and a local new yorker in his heart. The second half of the book I found a bit clearer, more honest, and particularly his return from Bolinas to NYC. The last quarter of the book was a straight read, I hunkered down in my apartment and really got into it. It ends well, I mean, more intimate and heartfelt. A good read.