Wednesday, April 29, 2009


One of the worst insults an 8th grader can hurl at another at my school is "junky." Too many of the kids have lost parents to the scourge, and many were born addicts themselves. I've seen certain kids absorb brutal teasing with a shrug but as soon as they get called "fiend" or "junky" they get all China Syndrome on somebody's ass.

Burrough's book is cold and distant and reportorial. It is beautiful and dispassionate: "Why have a junk habit?" Burroughs asks, and answers: "In order to have a junk habit." There is no reason, there is no pleasure, there is no goal, there is no escape. Junk is simply a way to kill time, and Burroughs goes through large swaths of junk time. There is a truly monstrous scene involving a kitten, written completely without emotion, and what makes it most alarming is that I think it's the only point in the book where "Bill" feels something.

Scott Russell Sanders wrote an essay about his father's alcoholism and used the image of a key turning in his brain to describe his fear of becoming a drunk himself. I often react the same way to movies and books about addiction, because my father drank himself to homelessness. I can barely get through movies like Leaving Las Vegas, for example--and Junky made me feel jangly and uncomfortable in the same ways.* Any work which can move me to disgust and psychic pain is worth high praise.

*Of course my fear of literary and cinematic addiction doesn't keep me on the wagon...

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