These books explore the reality of drug addiction in a deeper and more vivid way than any movie.
We’re surrounded by drugs, there’s no doubt about it. We hear about them every single day on the news, we read about them on the internet, we know what they look like and the effect they have through movies and television… To put it briefly, we’re more than familiar with drugs. When it comes to literature, it's basically the same. Even though most novels don’t deal with drugs in an open and direct way, they are highly present even in our favorite classics. From characters with drug dependency like our favorite detective Sherlock Holmes, who was an avid consumer of cocaine, to classics that were written by authors who were really wasted, there’s no doubt that drugs play a big role in our lives. Now, I’ve always had the impression that no matter how much we’re told about the dark side of having a drug addiction, we still romanticize it in a way mainly because of the great things that have come out of it (talking about art here). So, is there a way to present a story in a more realistic way? The following books are proof that there is.
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (1992)
Most of the time, when drug addiction is taken to fiction, it results in a morbidly moralizing, cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t take drugs, and to be honest, as I mentioned before, that doesn’t work at all. There’s something about using drugs that ends up trapping users more and more in a never-ending cycle of self-destruction. That’s precisely the process that Johnson’s short story collection takes the reader into. The eleven stories follow the life of a man that goes by the name of Fuckhead and whose experience, with all the ups and downs of addiction, takes us from really funny situations to the darkest reality he finds himself immersed in. Apart from that, Johnson uses a very unique, messy, and chaotic narrative style that reflects the character's disturbed mental state.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins (2004)
A highly polemical novel since its publication due to its strong depictions of drug use, sex, and adult language, Hopkins' story is loosely based on her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth (hence the name). The novel is all about a summer vacation gone bad. Kristina, a seemingly perfect and well-behaved girl, goes to spend some weeks with her absent father. Since he’s not around that much, she soon meets Adam, a bad boy that steals her heart immediately. One day after hanging, she decides to try meth after a lot of insistence on Adam's part. This makes her discover a fun, extroverted, and attractive alter ego that she doesn’t want to abandon. But what will happen when she goes back to real life? Things gets really ugly.
Lithium for Medea by Kate Braverman (1981)
What happens in many cases is that a person isn’t only addicted to one drug or several of them, but it has to do with other issues they that they try to defeat with these substances. That’s what Braverman’s novel explores. A young woman, who after being raised in a sick and dysfunctional environment, becomes addicted to even the slightest demonstration of love and care, even when they’re as toxic as the substances she gets caught on. I know it might sound like a total cliché, but it’s actually very well-written and simply devastating.
Digging the Vein by Tony O'Neil (2006)
What a better testimony than that of a former musician who, in his wish to live the rock-and-roll lifestyle of his favorite musicians found himself on the brink of death, which pushed him to make a change in his career. His debut novel tells the story of an unknown musician wanting to make it in the industry, but who gets hooked on heroin and crack without really doing anything to take his music anywhere, nor his life, apparently. But more than just a biographical depiction of his life as a junkie, the novel explores, sometimes in a dark and bleak way, what was hiding behind his addictive behavior and how, without even noticing it, you end up pushing yourself to a hopeless life that only a few manage to escape.
The Lotus Crew by Stewart Meyer (1984)
Finally, to dial down the drama a little bit, let’s talk about a novel that isn’t that new, but is a classic of sorts among drug novels. It tells the story of two homeless, drug-addicted friends who only have each other. After thinking about it for a while, they decide that the only way their lives are going to change is to start a business, and naturally, the first thing that comes to their minds is selling heroin on the street. Surprisingly, they actually succeed in starting the business, but things won’t be as easy as they expected, and soon both their friendship and lives will be at risk.
The best stories about drug addiction delve more into the dark and horrible side of drugs because that’s what it's like in real life. However, what I liked about these novels is that they don’t portray drug addiction only through the lenses of a cautionary tale taking a moralizing stance. As we saw, these books are deeper than that, and in some cases also show the appealing side of it.
You should give these a try:
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