cover image Cherry


Nico Walker. Knopf, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-52013-9

A man who likens himself to a “stray dog with the mange” descends into addiction in this frustrating debut. Walker’s unnamed narrator begins the novel as “a soft kid” from a stable home, a vegetarian shoe store employee dating a college classmate named Emily who likes Modest Mouse and Edward Albee. But when Emily transfers, he fails out of school and enlists in the Army as a medic, reasoning “I don’t have any other ideas.” He wastes time in Iraq “waiting for the war to happen” and grows further apart from Emily. Upon returning home to Cleveland, the narrator starts “getting into the OxyContin pretty hard.” He traipses through a parade of new women before Emily reenters the picture, having started using drugs herself. “There was nothing better than to be young and on heroin,” the narrator writes. Some readers may find the innumerable descriptions of the Sisyphean life of an addict suitably transgressive. For everyone else, the insistence on Emily’s culpability for the narrator’s degeneration, as well as the depiction of other women as useful only for sex, make the novel feel like it’s willing to describe the catastrophe of its narrator’s life, but not truly examine it. [em](Aug.) [/em]