How to
Stop Time
Heroin from A to Z
Anne Marlowe
(Basic Books)
Opium
A History
Martin Booth
(St. Martins Press)
In How to Stop Time we have a confessional written in the form of a dictionary. It begins with letter a --- a Chanukah gift crewneck sweater from Aunt Ruth --- goes through abstention and addiction --- and ends up with withdrawing ("When I woke up mucus poured from my nose for a half hour, and before the first cappuccino of the day I couldn't even think") to youth, and finally z --- being a blank half page.

Underneath this artsy schema, How to Stop Time is a dreary tale of a drab life-style as told by a drug-head. As Ms. Marlowe tells us endlessly, junkies aren't much of a laugh-riot to be around: they lie, cheat, steal, and never turn up in time for their appointments (or even arrive on time for a good party). Furthermore, she convinces us that they can't to be trusted in any way, and as we work our way through her mini-encyclopædia of self-imposed woe, we find ourselves believing her wholeheartedly.

Even the stories from her youth --- mum and dad chewing the fat on the back porch and ignoring the neighbors --- aren't any more diverting than hearing about her eighteenth score on the streets of New York City: Mother was a cold fish who complained about the neighbors' show-off cars, and Father shacked up with his sister before getting married, developing Parkinson's disease before he died --- possibly, she thinks, as a curse for his malefeasances.

Her description of the end of Dad's very active life of tennis-playing, running, and work could have been moving --- but the most that she can squeeze out of it is her "irritation" that he's shaking all the time. She even has the temerity to say, under the heading of luxury,

    I used heroin for many reasons, but one was to take myself, brakes on, to the terrain where my father was dragged by his body...Dope with its intimations of loss of bodily control, brought me greater sympathy with my father.

As my dear old Aunt Beulah would say, when someone let out with a whopper like this, "bullshit, child."

Even if you are willing to put up with Ms. Marlowe's arrant delinquency, there are few insights --- thoughts that sound important but, under scrutiny, turn to pure lard:

    Using heroin allows you to act out carefully selected aspects of degradation under the guise of cool.

Or,

    Speculate as you will about quitting, you can only hurt yourself, never the drug. Heroin will not listen to you, not even once, but it will always take you back.

She may have inadvertently stumbled on a grain of truth when she says,

    The biggest, darkest secret about heroin is that it isn't that wonderful: it's a substance some of us agree to pursue as through it were wonderful, because it's easier to do that than to figure out what is worth pursuing. Heroin is a stand-in, a stop-gap, a mask, for what we believe is missing.

Then, having reported that, she squanders it by tacking on a dab of blither:

    Like the "objects" seen by Plato's man in a cave, dope is the shadow cast by cultural movements we can't see directly.

As my dear Aunt Beulah would say, "Speak up, honey. I can't understand a goddamn word you're saying."

§     §     §

If you really want to know about heroin (and it's great grandmother opium), we suggest the new book by Martin Booth entitled Opium: A History. It goes into the history of this, the most favored narcotic, East and West. Along the way, it tells us the powerful effect the drug has had on world cultures, on economies, on history --- with a lengthy discussion of the toll this "simple poppy" has had on you and me and our country.

For example, in one paragraph, Booth is able to encapsulate the dialectic of the ghetto pusher and user. In his very English style --- the book was originally published in England --- Booth shows the economic determinism of this and all drugs. For, far better than Amway or Tupperware, drugs turn users into an aggressive sales force:

    It is a known fact that when heroin addiction reaches a certain stage, the addict finds it advantageous to become a dealer rather than feed his habit with other criminal activity. The trade therefore has to expand to self-perpetuate itself: a vicious circle is formed. Heroin addiction has declined amongst the middle class but it is rampant in inner-city areas amongst the poor, blue-collar workers and unskilled labourers. In Harlem, New York City, where over 60 per cent to households have incomes below the federal poverty line, it is hardly surprising heroin is rife for it not only alleviates the drudgery of life but it also affords a lucrative way out of the poverty trap. Many poor youths turn to the drug trade to make a living for heroin, whilst it will not make a street dealer rich, it will bring him in more than many a legitimate wage packet might.

--- Lolita Lark


Maiden
Voyage
Ann L. McLaughlin
(John Daniel & Company)
It is deadly for sales to label a novel, "charming." But damn it, Maiden Voyage is charming and you should read it anyway. It is an old-fashioned, modern love story. Written in a clear, simple and flowing style and skillfully plotted, the book is all-around satisfying.

McLaughlin's story is based upon an event of her mother's life. Her mother, fresh out of college in 1924, signed on as secretary/companion to the recently retired E. W. Scripps, co-founder of the Scripps Howard chain of newspaper. Scripps was embarking on a round the world cruise in his yacht and she went with him, on a year's cruise.

Using this as a basis, McLaughlin has constructed fictional events and characters who live out their own cruise. Seventy-five years ago was a long time ago, and much of the world was terra incognita to American tourists. The young girl Julia and the old newspaper mogul, Samuel W. Damson, sail to places as exotic as Zanzibar, Borneo and Darwin. They explore these places as they were then. They described in rich detail, the color, the smells, the people.

Old Man Damson, OM as they call him behind his back, is a foul-mouthed demanding person, used to forcing his will upon others. With guts and daring he has fought his way to the top. Now retired, he finds his power and influence slipping away. Julia, raised in the protected environment of a Mississippi plantation, is deeply conflicted: she knows she should return home and become a lady, yet she wants to have a career, to be a newspaper reporter, a Modern Woman. Her sailing with Dawson is a daring thing for a southern girl to do in the 1920s and shocking indeed to the homefolks.

During the journey, Julia falls in love with a young scientist who shows up along the way. He is both serious and impetuous. She "goes all the way" with him and the event is beautifully detailed. The scientist says he wants her to be his copartner in life, but really he wants her to be his little wife. There is a storm, a rescue at sea, an attack by camel-riding brigands --- oh the story just zips along.

That is the love story, but, behind the arras, there is another unspoken love story. The reader comes to understand that the OM and Julia are forging a deep bond of love, not sexual but absolutely true. The OM sees in Julia something of the spirit he had as a youth. Julia sees in the OM a person who took his life into his own hands and shaped it to his will. We watch as over the months, the OM literally takes Julia out into the world and we see the OM, with all his bluster and bullying, encouraging her to do as he had done -- with guts and daring, live life to its fullest.

How it all works out we don't know until the very end. By then, you care very deeply.

--- Hugh Gregory Gallagher


 


The Internet
For Dummies
John R. Levine,
Arnold Reinhold and
Margaret Levine Young
(IDG Books)
I am an Internet dummy. What seems to be basically simple escapes me. So I got this book. On page seven it says Internet is held together by chewing gum and bailing wire. To that I can relate.

Back in the late 60's we started a non-profit radio station in Santa Cruz, California. It was called KUSP. I and my two friends called David did all the groundwork necessary to satisfy the FCC. Then David #2 quit so David #1 and I did what we needed to do to get us on the air. We went over the hill to silicone valley to beg, borrow and steal discarded equipment from big rock stations. We hired a third class engineer who worked for free and slept in a sleeping bag on my living room floor (except when my mom came over and then he had to disappear).

Our studio was in the back room of a hippy restaurant on a hill and our antenna was on top of a neighbor's garage. We had ten watts. Reception lasted all the way down the hill. Don't tell me about chewing gum and bailing wire. Been there, done that. So I can learn Internet.

--- j. a. shannon


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