At first glance Jade Sharma's debut novel Problems looks like well-trod mash-up of druggie, New York hipster, and bildungsroman tropes. Maya is a heroin addict with a lifeless job at a bookstore and a writing career that never took off. Her marriage is crumbling and her outlook on life grows bleaker by the day. She is a walking drug cocktail, most of her time spent avoiding life and numbing herself with heroin, Suboxone, Xanax, cigarettes, and her iPod. However, although she is frustratingly naive, Maya's voice is irresistible. Like a crude, wry Twitter user, she spits out her unfiltered thoughts with a self-conscious coating that subverts the tropes that make up the plot. Maya doesn't beat around the bush, her observations cutting because of their clarity. She rails against the expectations of marriage, the serenity of family life, the gendered double-standards surrounding health and sexuality.
Sharma is also fantastic with transitions, slipping in-and-out of Maya's running monologue and her increasingly dire life circumstances. Her daily interactions frequently slide into visions or memories of sex, usually kinky and exact, her boredom actualizing into lustful fantasies. Maya has the tendency to narrate her actions, like snorting heroin or shaving herself, in the voice of an exuberant cooking show host, or an encyclopedia from the distant future. In one section, a visit to her husband's family is spliced with her retelling of the scene at her psychiatrist's office. While some might find Maya's voice cloying or gratuitous, she surgically exposes many taboos and hypocritical attitudes toward addiction and gendered sexuality. Bold, unforgiving, and hilarious, Sharma's first book will knock you over.