I have a feeling this is one of those books that will fall strictly in the love/hate divide. With major caveats, I’m in the former.
I’m the same age as the lead character. Born in the 80s, bored in the 90s, bombed in the 00s. 9/11. The recession. And though I’ve never done drugs or served in the military, I could relate to this story. Because this is the story of too many people I know. People whose lives were used and abused overseas. People who turned to drug use stateside because their lives are static. As the main character sunk further and further into his abyss, everything about it was known to me and while some would find the narration grating, it felt familiar and homey.
I don’t want to justify what the author has done with his life. If this is semi-autobiographical as it claims, he’s been a major tool. But there is a pulse of energy with this story; a desperation to tell it. It felt like Requiem for a Dream, but with lower stakes. You know this guy is going to descend to the deepest center of hell so it’s not worth investing your heart just to have it broken.
Since he’s impossible to empathize with, you’re left with the narrator and the story itself. This is what will likely separate most Cherry readers. I chose to be all in. Most Vietnam memoirs and fictionalized autobiographies have never done much for me (looking at you, Dog Soldiers). But this is my life, my generation, my people on this page.
There’s no big picture here. Take what you will about Iraq, the War on Drugs, post-industrial rot, toxic masculinity, etc. This isn’t a polemic. It’s a story, told in a way that a product from the last decade would tell. In this regard, it worked for me.