(Originally published on 09/25/12 at andrewseaward.com)
Fierce. Raw. Compelling. These are the words I’d use to describe Marni Mann’s gut-wrenching debut novel, Memoirs Aren’t Fairytales. Written with the conciseness and urgency of a surgeon cutting into the left ventricle, Ms. Mann cuts through all the clichés and false glorification of the typical addiction/recovery story, and shows us just how truly debilitating this illness can be. But she doesn’t do it all at once. Like the proverbial frog cooking in a pot of boiling water, Marni starts us off slowly and deliberately, with small, barely-noticeable spikes in the heat. In the first chapter, we are introduced to Nicole, a fairly innocent, albeit emotionally-scarred, twenty-something college drop-out, intent on numbing herself with benign amounts of liquor and weed. But after moving to Boston with her plutonic, brother-like boyfriend, Eric, Nicole begins to experiment with other “mood enhancers” like shrooms and speed. She soon spends all her money on eight-balls and liquor, only to find herself broke and in desperate need of something potent and cheap. That’s when she discovers heroin. A tenth the cost and a hundred times more powerful, it is exactly what Nicole needs to erase her past.
With gripping precision and hauntingly accurate detail, Ms. Mann describes Nicole’s first descent: “The taste was an odd mix, sweet like kid vitamins and bitter like vinegar, and it burned my lungs. I felt it, slowly, at the tip of each limb and then a rush up to my head. The rush wasn’t anything like coke. This, well, this was euphoric—tingles and sparks and melting—like I was being swallowed by a cloud of cotton and the sun was wrapping its rays around me like a blanket. I could feel my chin falling towards my chest, my back hunching forward.”
Of course, as we all know, this feeling doesn’t last. No matter how hard you try, nothing can ever replicate the euphoria of that first hit. Eventually, you wind up empty and soulless, devoid of all human emotion, a mechanism operating on one thing and one thing only; the hunger for the next taste that will make you somewhat whole again.
Nicole experiences this exact same soullessness, while getting rammed in the ass behind the alley by some fat, sweaty biker dude: “Now, heroin controlled my body. And since it had been violated, did it really have any value to me anymore? No. I could whore out all I wanted. I could screw ten guys for a hundred bucks. As long as dope was inside me, I didn’t care if a man was too.”
Unfortunately, this type of dejection is right on the money. I should know. As a hopelessly depraved addict myself (now with 4 years sobriety, but only by the grace of God), I can say, without hesitation, that Marni nails the depravity, down to its gritty core.
The pain is real. The hopelessness is real. The only thing unreal is Marni’s ability in getting the details of it so damn accurate. How did she do it? I wondered, as I devoured page after page of frighteningly familiar debauchery. Was Marni an addict? Did she experience the same hell her junkie protagonist, Nicole, had experienced? I decided to do a little research. To my surprise, I found out that Ms. Mann wasn’t an addict herself, (although she had known many in her life, including one very close who had overdosed.) But then how was she able to write the highs so well if she had never actually injected? The simple answer: research. Not only is Ms. Mann a gifted writer, she is a fierce investigative journalist.
As she explains in the FAQ section of her website (http://marnismann.com), “the biggest source of information came directly from the addicts themselves. In fact, most of the addicts I interviewed were high. They were dumping the heroin onto a spoon, liquefying the powder, and shooting it into their veins while I was in their presence. Within a few seconds of pulling the needle out—because that’s how long it takes to get high—my questions began. How did they feel? What did they see? What was running through their head?”
Wow. Now, that’s what I call being a dedicated writer. She didn’t watch some video on Youtube or pop inTrainspotting. Nope. She went right to the source; the junkies themselves. No wonder this novel is so gripping. It feels like you are right there with Nicole in that roach-infested Boston motel room shooting dope into your arm. It makes me so happy to read something so brutal and compelling, especially since it’s in the same genre I love to write myself. What Marni has done is truly an inspiration. It makes me eager to start working on my next book. Well done, Ms. Mann.
This book is definitely a must read for all addicts in any stages of their addiction and/or recovery. But I don’t think you have to be an addict to appreciate this story. It is written so well and with such precision, that even if you can’t relate directly to Nicole’s struggle, you feel vested enough in her character to keep the pages turning. And you wanna know what the best part is? Oh hell yeah…there’s a sequel!
To check out more please visit Marni’s website at http://marnismann.com or click on the Amazon links below. Happy reading everybody!