From User to Heroine

An alphabetical road back from dope.

IF YOUR LOOKING for a junkie book littered with track marks and jonesing, Anne Marlowe's how to stop time: heroin from A to Z isn't for you. Marlowe denies ever being a junkie, and opted for snorting or smoking over shooting up. As for withdrawal, her "dopesickness was a day of flu, not convulsions." Likewise, if you're seeking a confessional, how to stop time probably won't appear on Narcotics Anonymous' suggested reading list. After writing a Village Voice feature on heroin, Marlowe received numerous letters accusing her of glamorizing the drug. She chalks these accusations up to America's tendency to only support narratives of "dope use that end in ruin" and refuses to participate in the moral scrubbing she sees as characteristic of 12-step programs: "They'd rather have someone stand up and testify that . . . he struggles every day against the temptation to do it again—a ridiculous notion—than send him to learn what he's really fascinated with." How to stop time: heroin from A to Z

by Anne Marlowe (Basic Books, $24) Marlowe is fascinated with time—heroin made this clear to her, and it's made clear to us in this memoiresque collection of mini-essays. Marlowe asserts that opiate use becomes a "social problem" in a fast-paced world—hence the birth of the dope fiend around the time of the Industrial Revolution (think Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Addict). When people feel anxiety over time and their bodies lack a "natural way of organizing their days," they turn to dope to stop time, using their addiction like the rest of us use a day planner. Marlowe argues that this need is especially compelling for city dwellers and that junkies are as much an urban product as "the after-hours club, the taxi, the tenement, the alley." On a more personal level, Marlowe stops time as a way to reflect on her past. While this book reveals her painful childhood, her struggle to cope with her Parkinson's disease-stricken father, her path from philosophy grad student to yuppie to dope user and freelance rock critic, heroin allowed her to look back on these things without the pain of sobriety. The problem with stopping time is that you can get stuck; as Marlowe writes, "not getting on with your life is much more likely than going to the emergency room, and much harder to discern from the inside." Closely mirroring the nonemotions of a dope user, Marlowe's narrative doesn't offer much in the way of highs or lows. Not that these alphabetical, self-referential essays and philosophical musings need a climax, but they are strangely even-toned. As you progress through essays like "babble," "Max Fish," and "vomit," there's an underlying progression in Marlowe's personal development (from girl to dope user to sober writer), but no chronology or shift in writing style. It's as if she wrote this with a nod to William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique. Marlowe's drug-related insights attract the reader's attention most. As one of the first women—if not the only—to carve out a successful niche in the formidable dope-lit canon, she notes that men and women use dope differently, as they do food. She even exposes the NYPD's harshness with middle-class users: "In their view, dope is a natural part of ghetto life, but white people who step into the underworld have it coming to them." Interestingly, she draws parallels between drug use and capitalism, concluding that the supposed outsiders are actually insiders: "While dope is in some ways the ultimate hipster buy, when all is said and done it's still a purchase and the user is a consumer." Blame it on her abandoned philosophy studies, but Marlowe makes the occasional sweeping statement that verges on the ludicrous. After recalling the anxiety-deflecting rush she felt while playing sports, Marlowe proposes, "Perhaps if you fall out of the habit of playing sports seriously . . . you are more vulnerable to a chemical substitute than someone who never knew those moments at all." Beyond these and a few extraneous essays, however, Marlowe validates herself as a discerning cultural critic.

 
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