A DIMEBAG OF DRUG FICTION TO ROLL UP AND SMOKE
A McGuffin, as popularized by Alfred Hitchcock with his film The 39 Steps, is a device used to trigger the plot. Think of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, or most famously, The Maltese Falcon.
Often in crime fiction, drugs are used as a McGuffin. In lesser-told tales, one drug could be substituted for another in order to tell the story. Or, in others, drugs could be substituted for anything else at all. A bag of money. A rare automobile. A gold-plated yo-yo, for Christ's sake.
Yet there are stories out there which can only be told about a particular mind-altering substance because only that one will do. The drug is woven into the very fabric of the story and there is no other way to tell it.
These are those stories, and the drugs that made them.
1. MARIJUANA: Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks
Lots of great stories have been told about weed, but this coming-of-age tale about Chappie—a.k.a. Bone—who leaves his family in upstate New York to join his Rastafarian mentor on a pot farm in Jamaica, is the perfect gateway drug novel. If you've ever wondered what might have happened if Holden Caulfield or Huckleberry Finn had smoked a joint, this book will scratch that itch!
2. LSD: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
One of my favorite all-time books. While the plot may not revolve around the sale, distribution, or ingestion of LSD (acid), the writer was tripping while writing passages of the book. Kesey was at the forefront of the popularization of LSD on the west coast and his antics fueled Tom Wolfe's memoir The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, also worthy of a (re)read.
3. MDMA / ECSTASY / MOLLY: Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman
Holy shit get ready for your eyes to roll back into your head and your lips to retreat into your gums. Within two chapters of this badboy, your serotonin will dump from your brain as you follow Raymond Gaspar and several other narrators on this hell-bent tale through the streets of San Francisco before, during, and after one of the biggest shipments of MDMA. You'll thank me for this one.
4. PILLS: Nitro Mountain by Lee Clay Johnson
Oxy, Xanax, Percoset…Pills are the rages these days. Everybody from soccer moms to trailer trash likes to get high by getting low, and this is a story best told by Lee Clay Johnson in his (so far) only novel. A couple pages into Nitro Mountain will have you wondering what the hell you've wandered into but damned if you aren't going to keep reading…
5. POWDER COCAINE: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
This story of a douchebag ad exec in New York City is great if you don't take it seriously. Unfortunately, the author does. Most novelists eschew the powder for drugs with higher stakes, like heroin or crack. However, this novel takes on the excess of the eighties and the protagonist's downward spiral masterfully. For something a little less self-aware, I strongly recommend Stay God, Sweet Angel by Nik Korpon.
6. CRACK COCAINE: Clockers by Richard Price
Forget the film; Read the book. This and Lush Life are the high water mark of Price's fiction career and all his stars burn bright on these pages. For a nonfiction look at the ravages of crack cocaine, you can do no better than The Corner by David Simon and Edward Burns
7. METHAMPHETAMINE: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
This was an easy one. The story of Ree Dolly who has to track down her meth cooking father before the bail bondsman takes their house is a hard story to forget. If you've raced through that one too fast, be sure to pick up Jedidiah Ayres' Peckerwood. Neither will disappoint.
8. HEROIN: (a tie) Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and Kiss Me Judas by Will Christopher Baer
Heroin is fiction's darling. It raises the stakes from simple powder cocaine and it devastates both black and white communities. Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero and Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries tore up the rich kid set, and Dopefiend by Donald Goines took on the inner city blacks. However nobody rubs your face in the nitty-gritty like Irvine Welsh, and he gets credit for the greatest use of a glossary since A Clockwork Orange. Kiss Me Judas and its hypnotic prose will give you a taste of something you can't get anywhere else. Tom Pitts' Hustle taps that vein as well.
9. BIG PHARMA: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Abbott's murder mystery involving uber-competitive cheerleaders confirms my every fear of today's youth: casually chomping Adderall as they exercise little reason, disregarding life and custom as we know it. Show me a teenager and I'll show you a future Juggalo.
10. TAKE THEM ALL: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Ever wonder what it would be like if Hunter S. Thompson had to solve a mystery? Pynchon takes a crack at it as he slums his way through genre fiction. I personally can't stand a lot of his other work, but Inherent Vice is the most hilarious detective novel and, in my opinion, he writes drugs very well.
Which ones did I forget? How outraged are you because I neglected to mention a book? Leave your comments below!!
Eryk's latest What We Reckon, deals with two criminal lovers rolling into Texas with a kilo of coke in a hollowed out King James bible and can be found here