Sick City
Tony O'Neill
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Buy *Sick City* by Tony O'Neill online

Sick City
Tony O'Neill
384 pages
July 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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What begins as a send-up of the big business of recovery and the celebrities who march across our TV screens, embracing society renewed, soon segues into a nightmarish tale of junkies on a mission. From the acclaimed “Dr. Mike,” who on feet of clay leads the whining hordes to sobriety, to the real-time world of a junkie’s life on the streets, O’Neill smashes through the gates of Hell and takes no prisoners.

There are a few chapters where Randal and Jeffrey are on the upswing, making plans for a big money score that will buy them the freedom to live any way they like. As roommates in recovery, Randal, the ne’er-do-well son of a wealthy Hollywood family, is given his last chance. But Randal’s drug of choice is meth, and much as he resists having his money cut off by the family, the call of the drug is stronger than any familial ties. By chance, Jeffrey, an addict scarred with tattoos and needle-marks, has a proposition for Randal, the two united in common goal.

O’Neill writes about the gritty reality of street drugs as well as the more sophisticated elite who have enough money to hide their habits under the guise of success. Adding in some old Hollywood lore, the author creates a scenario that could only happen in the twisted realm of the addict, where opportunity is often blown for a few moments of chemical ecstasy. For the dilettante, the story is a glimpse into the crazy world of hardcore drugs, the highs, the romance of addiction. But, much like Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight, this is a gothic horror tale of self-destruction.

The brutality of the streets is all too real, a place of poverty and neglect where most citizens never notice the scrambling addicts lurking in alleys or the desperate straits of those forced to live in such an environment. This isn’t a place we like to visit, except perhaps in a movie. But this vast netherworld does exist, peopled by those who chase a dragon of one sort or another, defeated by the very chemical that promises nirvana, if only for a while. This is a downward spiral with no stops to get off, an e-ticket ride to the abyss.

Yet Randal and Jeffrey, from such different walks of life, cling to one another like long-lost brothers, their sense of camaraderie linked by an ambitious score and the drugs that call, siren-like, whenever they have a little money. There is violence and death in this world as well, and those who would snatch profit from an addict with his eyes on the pipe. This land is peopled by miscreants and murderers, soulless zombies awash in a chemical haze. You may feel disturbed by this very realistic account of addicts on a mission, all the better if there aren’t any track on your arms. So much for the War on Drugs.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2010

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