I love Tom Hansen.
In the manner of: I love him so much I want to doodle his name on my notebook and surround it with little hearts. Ok, ok, maybe not quite THAT much. But I do love this book so much that I read it twice in a row. Then I went back and underlined stuff that sounded so much like the inside of my head and what I always think and feel about things that I got paranoid and suspicious that Mr. Hansen had sneaked into my room and read my diary.
Except he hadn’t. (Which is just so awesome, isn’t it? The way we are all so similar and so different?)
In the words of Holden Caulfield, I dig the kind of authors that make you want to call them up. (Or whateveritwas he said) Hansen makes me want to call him up. Or text him or Bookface him or whatever else we do in this day and age of modern inconveniences.
American Junkie is about addiction, relationships, being lost, being found, a culture, an era, and searching for redemption and a place to call your own amid the chaos that can make up a human life. It’s raw and honest. Sometimes its a little raunchy. It makes you laugh and it makes you cry. The language is compelling and the writer’s voice is truly unique.
Now I’m going to contradict myself, but not in a bad way, just in a bad-writing kind of way.
Although I’ve just stated he is unique, Hansen’s writing – combining his personal history and his slip into the seedy underworld of a 1990’s Seattle puts me in mind of a modern-day Burroughs. While he shows you the ugly side of the drug world, he does it with a personal touch. Instead of the air of detachment that you’d find in Burroughs, Hansen isn’t afraid to describe in detail what might repel him or draw him: and that makes a huge difference in lending the book his humanity and soul. It doesn’t romanticize it at all. It just speaks clearly about the ups and downs of addiction. Literally.
As he goes from one crazy experience to the next, he searches for his biological parents, explores the memories of his childhood, and reflects on how differently his life might have turned out had it gone this way or that. And he does this while sliding deeper into dealing and use.
In the end, near the brink of death, he finds the inner strength to save his own life, but he leaves you with the impression that he still isn’t quite sure why he’s saving himself.
I think that this vague ending is why the book touches me so.
There are all kinds of hells and I have been in a dangerous one of my own. Getting to the place where you have no other option than to die or save yourself – if you have ever been there, you immediately recognize a description of the place. And when you save yourself there is a kind of odd feeling left over afterward. A blank feeling of: Why did I pull back like that when I could have so easily let go? And for an answer there is only an emphatic silence.
That silence isn’t painful or anything. But it is definite.
I guess Tom’s ending is right. You can’t really say why you save yourself. But you do.
And he did.
And as a reward for that we have this great book and the world is still graced with a remarkable and talented person. Thank the gods that be.
(In categorizing this novel, I had to put it into the Literature section because I don’t have a Autobiography section. Why is this? I didn’t think of it. But now I will make one. I hope someday it might have the prestige of being in the Banned Book section, because some parts of it might be deemed unsuitable for a young or innocent audience and the description of the side effects of prolonged heroin use are nasty if you have a weak stomach. Just a heads up.)