Friday, July 06, 2007

Book: Dope, by Sara Gran (2006)

This novel by Sara Gran racked up plenty of accolades last year. I only just got around to reading it. I’m glad I persevered.

Josephine “Joe” Flannigan is a recovering heroin addict in 1950 New York. Just as she’s getting back on her feet, she’s asked to track down a “good girl” who’s fallen into the drug demimonde. Accepting the job means enough money to begin anew. But it also requires her to return to a life she thought she’d left behind.

The book is a smart homage to the noir novels of the era. Perhaps too smart; the structure is so seamless that at times it feels studied, and I was several steps ahead of the outcome. But a journey where you know the destination is still worth taking with the right guide, and Joe fits that bill beautifully.

Dope excels at capturing the way experience recasts the landscape. Joe’s addiction superimposes its own map over the streets of New York: this is where to score, this is where to hide, this is a place to avoid. Travel the streets with any police officer and you’ll soon realize they’re not seeing the same city you are, but a travelogue of crime and misery. Relationships generate their own cartography. First kiss, first time I said “I love you,” last fight.

Regular readers know that I once appeared on a movie game show. Six of us were flown down to Los Angeles on the same flight, and we were instructed not to talk about movies until after the show was taped. Makes sense, right? And seems easy enough.

The six of us get off the plane, and there’s the “Welcome to Los Angeles” sign from countless films. Can’t point it out. We walk past the tile mosaic featured in Point Blank and Jackie Brown. I keep shtum. On the drive to the hotel we pass the Hollywood police station used in the closing scene of Twilight with Paul Newman, and I don’t say a word. (OK, that last one is a little obscure. But it was a movie game show.) Deny me my landmarks and I’m utterly lost, even if I know exactly where I am.

Miscellaneous: Links

Netflix and other by-mail video services cause rifts in relationships. And Vanity Fair gets its geek on for The Simpsons. I take issue with their 10 best episodes list, however. That “Evita” parody doesn’t belong there.