Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Inexplicable Book Review: Meth is bad, mmkay?

We All Fall Down by Nic Sheff is the follow-up to his debut, Tweak, and it’s a semi-riveting and completely frustrating book about drug usage and addiction. I imagine that’s kind of the point, but please note this going in. It results in a disjointed and intentionally odd narrative at times. (And a heads-up – Spoilers follow on this book, and his other works.)

First, the background – Sheff is the son of David, who did one of the best video game books of all-time, Game Over. It’s since been done a bit more in detail by Stephen Kent and others, but his book came out in 1999, when I was 15, and I remember it being one of the few non-industry (magazine) tomes about video games.

After Game Over, he wrote Beautiful Boy, which was released in 2008. It was all about Nic’s addiction to drugs – primarily meth – and how he was coping with it as a father. The book ended on a somewhat hopeful note, as David noted that Nic had about a year of sobriety at the time of the book’s publishing.

From there, Tweak by Nic Sheff came out in January 2009. If you’re looking for a scary, frantic, haunting book about drug usage, then jeebus, this is what you want. My skin literally itched while reading some portions. It was an Oprah Book Club choice, and they excerpted some of the tamer aspects of the first chapter.

Tweak is a remarkable novel on its own, but Nic produced a follow-up in April 2012, We All Fall Down. And to make a completely random comparison – At one point in his Dark Tower saga, Stephen King writes that the story is done and resolved, at least the happy bits, and if you don’t want that image to be spoiled in your mind, don’t read on. Well, We All Fall Down basically takes that concept and runs with it.

We learn that Tweak basically came about because Nic managed to manipulate his way out of rehabs in Arizona and New Mexico, latching on and living with a southern gal in Alabama. Once he’s there, he’s almost immediately drinking and smoking pot daily, while he’s writing Tweak.

While reading, it made me feel, well, odd. Like that entire last quarter of Tweak is basically a lie. Obviously, We All Fall Down is a bit of an attempt by Nic to set the record straight about his addiction, and to also document and layout the thought process of an addict. It’s shocking how crassly manipulative he is at times, and he also writes in a way that obscures this, presenting his logic as it occurs in his mind.

The overall result is an interesting book, but one that’s really hard to read, and there ain’t no heroes in the tale. To steal from the wonderful TV Tropes, most of the book is an exercise in black and grey morality or grey and gray morality. Who do you find more sympathetic – the unreliable narrator who is always thisclose to doing meth, his shrewish and co-dependent girlfriend, his constantly relapsing former lover or the well-meaning but pressuring father?

The image is watermarked, and I used it to inject a little levity here.

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