A standing ovation is in order for Sara Gran’s latest novel, Dope.
When Josephine Flannigan, an ex-junkie who has seen it all, is offered an opportunity to make some substantial cash, she can’t turn it down. Nathaniel Nelson, a well-to-do attorney, and his wife are desperately searching for their daughter, Nadine, who has been expelled from college and gone missing. Paraphernalia left in her college dorm room point to addiction. Convinced that only an ex-junkie would know where to search for the girl, Nadine’s parents ask Josephine for help. The Nelsons’ offer of two thousand dollars is too sweet to pass up. The search for Nadine tests Josephine’s will to stay clean and sober as she revisits the dark, ugly world of addiction. Her journey is fraught with misplaced trust and unforeseen enemies, and readers will be mesmerized until the astonishing conclusion.
Sara Gran succinctly tells her story, keeping it fresh and continuously surprising. The plot is perfectly twisted, keeping the reader enthralled and a bit mystified. The ugliness of the junkie scene, linked as it is to prostitution, theft, and murder, is vividly depicted. Sara Gran’s ability to bring the sad reality of addiction and its societal consequences to readers with such insight is outstanding.
The book is full of memorable, if not lovable, characters. Yonah Ross, an old-time boyfriend of Josephine’s mother and “probably the oldest living junkie in New York,” lives in filth and squalor, using the veins in his foot to shoot up, lacking viable veins in his needle-savaged arms. Jezebel is a fat, used-up woman running a tenement house for addicted used-up girls; she supplies the heroin, beds, and the johns. Springer is a tough homicide detective whose favorite pastime is intimidation. And then there’s Monte, Josephine’s ex-husband, the catalyst for Josephine’s drug addiction. All of these characters are at home in this 1950s New York setting.
In surprisingly few pages, Gran packs a powerful tale with a far-from-perfect heroine who the reader ends up rooting for. Josephine may steal from Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue on occasion, but once we understand her troubled past and the responsibility she feels for her sister, we want to forgive her. Unfortunately, not everyone sees Josephine in the same light, and her mission to save Nadine becomes perilous.
Dope is a book I couldn’t put down; I highly recommend it. Bravo, Ms. Gran!