When it comes to “druggie fiction” – stories about drugs and alternative lifestyles by addicts or people who talk like addicts – Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries and anything by Lydia Lunch set the bar for me.
(I don’t include Burroughs, whose “Junky’s Christmas” is told above, because he is in a class all his own from an entirely different generation. )
The former’s cool reflective style makes obvious his character’s self awareness so you feel like you’re getting somewhere – you’re getting to know some things – you’re getting to know someone.
And the latter’s gruff in your face style is like walking by a bar fight outside a bar you’ve walked by a 100o times in the daylight and ignored (along with probably 1000 other people). But this night there is a fight and you can’t get past because of the crowd and the hysterical vibe. And even though you don’t know the people involved – may not have even ever been in that particular bar – when the police arrive you are incriminated because you got stuck in the crowd of onlookers watching the fight.
The front cover of Ellen Hopkins’ Crank tells you that its “The New York Times Best Seller” and the back inside cover tells you that “she has been called the bestselling living poet in the country.” But I just don’t see it.
I’m not disagreeing with the experts. I’m just saying I need some help understanding so I’ll take on the burden of blame for not realizing Ellen’s talent in Crank. The fact is I found the story a little clichéd: middle class White girl gets hooked on drugs and people suffer. The poems that form the story didn’t provide me with the avenues I needed to get inside her head to get to know her as a person – an addict – an individual.
Where Jim Carroll and Lydia Lunch’s books worked for me was they were syrupy with the language of frustration and dejection. Ellen Hopkin’s poetry while initially visually interesting on the page becomes redundant and I questioned if the choice of stanzas was more gimmick than art.
This is a piece of “Heroin” from Carroll’s Fear of Dreaming:
Sat for three days in a white room
a tiny truck of white flowers
was driving through the empty window
to warn off your neighbors
and their miniature flashlights
This is from Crank:
He jumps into your head
and opens your mouth,
making it spout your
And this is Lydia:
I STARTED OFF TRYING TO WRITE THE STORY OF MY LIFE BUT IT WAS SO FULL OF SHIT… I thought I’d write until tomorrow. Or the next day… Or never. Just to save the bullshitting till the twilight of my years.
Do you see the difference? Sandwiched between the two Crank looks even less convincing as either poetry or a narrative about drug addiction and its causes. However, I would not simply dismiss the book. There are some engaging turns of phrase and some of the poems lay on the page quite nicely.