Let that sweet Friday juice enter your veins and let out a sigh of relief. The weekend is here and that means it is time to lay down some literary judgement!
Our authors were tasked with diving deep into the world of addiction. They’ve shown us that addiction comes in many forms. Let’s take a look at the stories.
Danny Brophy slices his way into our minds with ‘All for the Best.’
Tom Wortman keeps us coming back with ‘In Need of Space.’
“In Need of Space” by Tom Wortman – I liked the title of this story, a few different meanings that all apply here.
This story opens very well; quick description of something we have all seen in various ways, a brief introduction to the new designer drug and its effects, then we make it personal to our narrator.
“A beard resembling twisted Brillo pads and hair like half-boiled spaghetti” may be the best description I have seen in the arena yet and I know exactly how this man looks. Nice little flashback worked in here to show us who Sam is and why we should care. Our narrator reacts like most, if not all of us would, with shame and fear. I felt that as I read it.
Now we see that all is not well in the narrator’s world either. Love lost triggers an impulsive need to follow Sam to help him. If for no other reason than, as they say, “there but for the grace of god”.
I like how an attack of despair and sadness at work triggers a remembrance of Sam. This leads directly to our narrator taking more decisive action when next Sam crosses his path. Rescuing him from an ugly incident with a broken tip jar and an injured bystander, our main character knows where to lead Sam and what they will find there.
Space acquired the trip to Harry’s house gives Sam time to reflect on what addiction means to him. Its an interesting line of thought and one that has merit. Its a glimpse into a troubled mind and one that seems genuine.
The ‘trip’ and Sam’s resulting departure are written fine, as is Harry leaving his life behind in search of space. (That drug name was well chosen, every sentence it’s in seems to drip with double meanings).
One issue that I have with the story is Harry’s decision making. I just didn’t get the feeling that he was at the end of his rope enough to give in so easily. He seems to decide on a whim to try this drug because Sam bought him some beers a while back. With what he knows about space, I found that a little suspicious. If he decided before that he would try it, I missed that completely.
The other issue is the addiction itself. Aside from his appearance and complete abandonment of his old life, Sam is fine. He suffers no withdrawals or ill effects at all. That could be just the way this fictional drug works, but for a man one hit away from dying he seems just fine.
“All for the Best” by Danny Brophy – First off, I have to say something to the authors that come through the arena. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?! It seems like every time I turn around someone is eating someone else or hell, even themselves now. I get it, people eat people. Some people also read these stories on their lunch breaks so take it easy on us.
Ok, now that I got that out of my system, let’s move on.
The beginning of this story is powerful. Short paragraphs composed of single simple sentences draw out the first act of auto-cannibalism into the treasured ritual of pleasure that it is to our main character; just like a heroin addict tightening the tourniquet and drawing up the hit that he desires so much.
This story is set at an interesting point of Rosen’s addiction timeline. The conflict of base urges and vices against a desire to go clean is a well worn path but what makes this struggle that much more wonderful is that unlike the junkie or alcoholic, Edward can’t get away from his drug of choice. He can’t remove himself from temptation. Very interesting.
I liked the way the info dump here felt more like Edward reflecting on his life and what he had done. Dealing with being a normal person again, working and paying bills has numbed him to the point that he needs something to feel alive again.
One of the aspects of this story that I like the most is the way it handles the actual addiction. Edward is at what could be his lowest point, you get the feeling that if he can hang on through this he might just be ok. The internal struggles and his genuine wish to stop giving in are written very well here. His attempts to substitute other more acceptable pursuits eventually gives way to an attempt to substitute a less self-harming pursuit.
If he can’t eat himself anymore, maybe he could eat someone else. It almost sounds logical in a completely insane way. The desperation that drives Edward to this point comes across very well.
The issue that I have with this story is with the attack in the bathroom. I’m just not sure how this would go down. I know that Edward feels like he just has to find out, but i had a hard time accepting that he would act so impulsively after all the time he has put into and the moderate success he has had with denying himself. If he was going to do it then and there, why even bother with the bathroom? I don’t know for sure, it just felt a little off to me.
The frantic attack and subsequent sampling of every part of Brett throws away any chance Edward has of living in our world. That it meets with no success at all is tragic and fitting. When he finally allowed himself to carve a chunk of his thigh, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and for that not to work either. Alas, our author was kinder than I and Edward’s story ends with a satisfied high.
This week’s prompt was not a happy one. Addiction does not often lead to sunny, happy places for those involved. I prepared myself for rough, emotional stories and I got a fine pair. I loved how even given such a straightforward prompt, our fine authors were able to craft stories that looked at such different aspects of addiction. One of a new addict coming in and the other as an old addict finally just giving in. There was one story that just seemed to embody the prompt a little bit more.
That story is “All for the Best” by Danny Brophy
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Writing and addiction for some reason seem to run hand in hand. Perhaps the same urge within humanity to find meaning through stories is wedded to the urge to find meaning through ingesting peculiar substances. Poe and his liquor, Stephen King and his cocaine, there exists a long-standing perception that the great artist must also be an addict.
So we come to our battle for the week. Two very different stories about two different sorts of addictions. As is my custom, I’m going to briefly comment on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“In Need of Space” – There’s a lot to like about this story. It can be read as a subtle meditation arguing against corporate conformity and consumerism. It can be taking as a parable about the search for meaning in one’s life — what’s the point of having the corner office if one’s very life has no point. It also comes across as one of the strangest bromances ever to grace the screens of the Arena. I like each and every one of these aspects of the story.
My biggest difficulty, however, is that I never really felt why space was such an attractive alternative to reality for the narrator. We have hints and adumbrations, but I want to know why the plunge into the deep end of addiction was the next logical step for him. As things stands, it’s almost like he’s doing it to be with someone he had forgotten he cared about. I think the author is aiming to say more than that, but I don’t feel he achieves that aim.
“All for the Best” – Say it with me: Autoanthropophagy. How’s that for a transgressive topic? As I read this story, I felt shades of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis walk over my grave. As disturbing as some of the imagery of the story is, I think it can be taken as a stand-in for every sort of addiction. That inward turn where we feed on ourselves.
I don’t understand why this title, but that I think’s a minor point. More importantly, given the premise of Rosen’s addiction, his actions make perfect psychological sense to me. The furtive moments in bathroom stalls. The scratching at the itch of addiction to the point of self-injury. The paranoia. The efforts to stop by the most ineffective means possible. These features all ring true to me, resulting in a tale that’s as haunting as it is gruesome.
Two stories painting pictures of addicts and how they got that way. Both with their own excellence. But this week I feel compelled to vote for the story that best captured the psychology of addiction. And for me, that story is:
“All for the Best,” by Danny Brophy.
Danny Brophy grossed us out and won over the judges! Congratulations Danny! Let’s see if our voters agree.
It looks like our fans are with Danny Brophy as well. A solid unanimous victory for the Massachusetts Madman.
Next week we are calling in the cleaning crew. Danny left a mess, as did all of our other authors. We’ll bring you more story action the Monday after this one. Enjoy your week off!