March 15, 2006

Digging Olivia

digging the vein

Finished this last week. I wanted to wait a while because I wanted to see how it stuck with me. When I read it, the book hit me in the head and hit me at exactly the right time. Broke open my view of my life and this city. The morning after I finished this novel, I drove my daughter to daycare and I was picturing everyone on the streets as a possible murderous drug addict. The book paints L.A. as a wasteland. Which it is, but not 100%. I’ve been to Alvarado and 6th--where he scores and shoots dope a lot. A lot of people going on their way, not all of them traipsing through hell. Like any auto/biography it sees the world of the book as the only thing happening. This is especially true of drug addiction when only one thing matters.

This book isn’t Burroughs’ Junky. Junky had a sort of romance which has likely resulted in thousands of drug addicts trying to mimic the man--not his fault, just saying. This book is about the living dead. I’ve known junkies. Their lives were a fucking paradise compared to what goes on in this book. They had mostly-reliable dealers who would come to their doorstep or meet them somewhere. They weren’t shooting crack and heroin into every available vein. This story’s about being as close to dead as you can possibly be while still breathing. It’s like you cheat life by faking heaven so the trade-off is a living hell.

I’ve been around or done my fair share of most types of drugs. Don’t tell anyone. Almost exclusively during the time when I lived in New York. He starts off doing mounds of coke living a Hollywood party lifestyle. I’ve never been friends with people who were rich enough to have limitless supplies of cocaine. One time I spent a night with a guy who’d just made tens of millions of dollars on some internet thing. He had an empty, furnitureless penthouse apartment. Endless coke. Still I didn’t want to do it. Coke puts me to sleep. Believe it or not. It’s fine and fun for the first ten minutes but then I come down and can never regain it again.

I’ve done ecstasy exactly twice. Don’t know if I’ve written about this before. The first time I ended up under the covers in my apartment with the lights off. I did it a second time because I thought, shit, that can’t be what it’s like. It was described to me as the best drug on earth. The second time I did it I ended up under the covers in my apartment with the lights off. Freezing. Who wants the lightbulb to be 1000 times brighter than normal? It enhances all the stuff I spend my time trying to block out. I couldn’t imagine going to a club packed with sweaty people, loud horrible music and flashing lights. I’d have a seizure. Maybe I’m uptight, I dunno, but I have an opposite reaction to drugs than most people.

So the book’s about one man’s drug odyssey. Sometimes I feel like a failure, and this book made me feel downright upstanding. Also good to know that there are people out there who sympathize with fucking up all the time. I recommend it. Powerful, it’s like reading a book about a man who went to war. I read an interview with him on Scarecrow where he talks about liking Dan Fante and grateful that he was liking a writer who wasn’t dead. That’s how I felt reading this book. It’ll probably become a classic in drug literature and it was extra moving to read it from a writer who’s younger than me. Yeah, I’ve read Jim Carroll and Burroughs but those guys are sort of like mythic characters. Tony O’Neill is right next door.

hating olivia

Liked this book. Started off not as much. Seemed like a Bukowski book with less of the poetry. But he’s got his own story to tell. Brutally honest, which is all you can ask from writing. Unafraid to make himself look like a fuck. I liked it better when things start going downhill for him--good stuff about working for the corporate world, clinging to a relationship that should have ended years ago. Really this is another drug novel, with two people addicted to each other.

If you dig Bukowski, Fante, you’ll dig this. Arthur Nersesian’s The Fuck Up is another one. My first novel, Oscar Caliber Gun, came out of that kind of first-person writing. The second novel I wrote, called Dishwasher, was an attempt to write this kind of fiction. At nineteen, my life wasn’t interesting enough. And probably still isn’t. I appreciate people who can write first-person about their lives. I have a really shitty memory. This blog is the closest I get to it.

Tony O’Neill reviews the novel on Dan Fante has a quote on the back of Digging the Vein, and he writes the intro to Hating Olivia, so it seems like a little club. I want in.


Susan said...

Henry, you're in.

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