This third entry of what Akashic Books now calls its Drug Chronicles series is, as the title states, devoted to heroin — a drug that has been the subject of fiction and movies for well over 50 years. From beatniks to the seamier side of flower power, through the disco years of excess and well on into the new millennium, there have always been stories about junkies and those who supply the monkey the addicts carry on their backs.
“If the short stories you are about to read are about nothing else,” observes editor Jerry Stahl in his introduction to THE HEROIN CHRONICLES, “they are about actions — occasionally hell-driven, occasionally hilarious, uniformly desperation-and-delusion-fueled actions — the kind made by those in the grip of constant gnawing need.”
He later insightfully concludes, “Unlike serial killers or traditional torturers, junkies spend most of their time salvaging themselves. That everyone they know and love in the world is often destroyed in the process is just a side issue.” The variety of tone and setting in these 13 original stories aptly demonstrates this and then some.
In Eric Bogosian’s short monologue, “Godhead,” a junkie boldly states his self-imposed isolation and antipathy toward the rest of the world, just so long as he’s got his fix. The lengths an addict will go to fulfill the cravings are displayed in stories like L. Z. Hansen’s “Going Down,” in which a female junkie desperately looks for a place to shoot-up and feel better without getting killed in the process. There is also “Dos Mac + The Jones” by Nathan Larson, where an otherwise educated and intelligent young man gives in to his need for dope by spending his day searching for a source in the New York streets.
Contrasting the above is Michael Albo’s “Baby, I Need to See a Man About a Duck,” following the day in the life of a junkie whose efforts to hide his addiction and maintain his supply takes him from the posh restaurants of Beverly Hills to the dusty farmland back roads of the San Gabriel Valley.
The world of heroin often manages to affect the lives of those who have never shot up. In Gary Phillips’ rollicking and darkly funny “Black Caesar’s Gold,” a young Southern California entrepreneur obsessed with the life and career of a notorious heroin dealer purchases one of the dealer’s car at an auction and discovers clues that lead him and his girlfriend to the source of the dealer’s unexpected legacy.
Other contributions are by such diverse writers as Jervey Tervalon, Lydia Lunch, Sophia Langdon and one from Stahl himself. All are accompanied by photos and bios of the contributors, following the format in the previous two CHRONICLES collections, as well as Akashic’s long-running series of city-based NOIR anthologies from around the U.S. and the globe.
Like its two predecessors, devoted to cocaine and speed, THE HEROIN CHRONICLES confirms how drugs are a sad, yet undeniable fact of our world. Yet, in what must be the most ironic of realities, these same scourges are the basis of some of the most unforgettable fiction you’ll ever read. It doesn’t justify the hold drugs have over us, but certainly shines some light on those hidden corners of humanity that we cannot ignore. —Alan Cranis