This month, I have been addicted to books about addiction. Like a book junky, even if I didn’t want to read more, I just had to. Any book that has come my way with its focus being on self-destruction, self-hatred, or self-analysis, and the attempt to tame the beast of self with proscribed substances, I have devoured. That’s my bag, you see – having personal experiences with addiction, I’m always morbidly attracted to the stories of people with similar crosses to bear.
Over the past few weeks I have ploughed through Keith Richards’s memoir, Life, following it up with Anthony Keidis’s Scar Tissue, and then moved swiftly on to Marilyn Manson’s ode to oddity, Long Hard Road out of Hell.
Enough, I thought, as I read the last tales of scoring eight balls and snorting cocaine off of prostitutes. I stacked the books up on my bookshelf, regained the will to live and thought perhaps of moving on to some kind of lighter material, picking up a copy of Woman’s Weekly; a publication so light, it practically floats if it is not weighed down. But it wasn’t to be, How to Grow an Addict, debut novel from New Zealand author J. A Wright, popped through my letterbox and after reading only half the blurb, I felt compelled to read on.
Having not inspected the front cover properly, until about half way through the book I had it in my mind that this novel was an autobiography. I had assumed that Randall Grange, the young, troubled addict protagonist of the piece was not a fictional character. Randall was written so realistically, so vividly and insightfully, that How to Grow an Addict read like one of the better autobiographical tales of addiction and redemption. To its credit, How to Grow an Addict is a wonderfully straight forward read, and not at all trite or contrived; there really isn’t any glorification in this story of a young girl trying to navigate growing up in the midst of a turbulent home life, often the sufferer of benign neglect at the hands of her equally troubled parents.
It is hard to pinpoint in this novel exactly where things start to go so wrong for Randall, because it is seemingly nothing and everything that leads to her demise. The severity of her problems with substances and addiction are not over-sauced, so it is both shocking and a complete non-surprise when Randall crashes and burns one last time, and is tricked into entering a rehabilitation centre. It takes a particular type of writer to capture all at once the banality and torture of addiction without being hackneyed or over-sentimental – J. A Wright excels at this. Her approach to the topic in this debut novel brought to mind passages from The Bell Jar; how one can be so entrenched in behaviour that it seems completely normal in its absolute dysfunctionality.
The cynic in me usually wants this type of fiction to end in horrific tragedy, because that just seems more realistic; surely it’s only natural for some heroin addicts to take it too far and die in a public toilet of an overdose, or for a man to lose everything due to drink and never get his shot at redemption, but I genuinely found myself hoping for Randall’s recovery in How to Grow an Addict, that’s how invested I was in her as a character. Now, perhaps I’m mellowing, or perhaps exceptional writing negated my inherent nihilism and all-round jaded attitude where “happy “endings are concerned. Perhaps.