A modern masculine novel of war, drugs, sex, and crime, Cherry is one of those quiet, masculine novels with an assertive narration that I absolutely love. Evoking the storytelling stylings of Denis Johnson, Bukowski, Hemingway, and Thompson, Nico Walker’s novel is a gritty smash of a page turner that reads like those pulp autobiographical novels of the seventies that seem to have been missing from our lives for all of those years but that voracious reading men like me have been yearning for. We talk about the same ones over and over again, but Walker has finally given us all something to celebrate once more.
The novel tells the story of a cynical, myopic man who seems to fail at just about everything he touches and doesn’t seem to care very much about that. Ever since dropping out of college, heroin chases him through the intervening years as he begins dealing, robbing banks, and having risky partnerships and sex, all while navigating a city of complete dirtbags that make him cater to just about every single whim of theirs namely because they can supply him and his girlfriend with more heroin. In the novel, he indulges in drugs, alcohol violence, and crime, and his character constantly skirts the edge of a long prison sentence as he is constantly recorded holding up banks in the area just to pay off the debts his fix keeps accumulating.
Walker wrote this novel in prison, and it is no surprise that most of this book hinges on some seriously honest autobiographical moments that he experienced through his life. He saw combat, he was addicted to drugs, he spent time in the places and with the people not unlike the shady characters he describes. He was in prison for bank robbery when he banged it out. The honesty and transparency in this novel is part of what makes it so damn good, along with the striking voice of the narrator. For a debut novel, this gritty and brutal portrayal of a life headed down the wrong tracks is delicious in its vicariousness, but also contains a striking mirror to the social and personal effects of PTSD, depression, the opioid crisis, and dysfunctional relationships.
Man, did I love this book.