I am so glad I didn’t give up on William S. Burroughs after The Naked Lunch. This book is an absorbing jump into drug culture without trying to glamourize or moralize any of it. The prologue explains his entrance into addiction aptly,
“The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a matter of curiosity. I drifted along taking shots when I could score. I ended up hooked…. You don’t decide to be an addict. One morning you wake up sick and you’re an addict.”
Right. Addiction could happen to anyone, and throughout human history it has been natural to experiment with altered mind states in the first place. Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.
The last sentence of the prologue is,
“I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.”
That pretty much sums up where the rest of the book is going. He tries many different roles, from a pusher to something of a pick-pocket. He tries to get clean. He gets married, arrested, separated, runs away to Mexico, sleeps with men instead. Unlike modern drug/alcohol memoir type books I have come across (Dry by Augusten Burroughs, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, etc etc) there is no resolution, and it’s not really plot driven. At the end of this ambivalent roller coaster he’s still on drugs, he’s still looking for the next great fix. It’s not a redemption story, it’s a starkly honest confession of the daily life of a junky who just can’t shake the habit.
One last comment, in the back he included a glossary of his terms…
“Hip or Hep… Someone who knows the score. Someone who understands ‘jive talk’. Someone who is ‘with it’. The expression is not subject to definition because, if you don’t ‘dig’ what it means, no one can ever tell you.”