Quill and Quire

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Use Once and Destroy

by John L’Ecuyer, Michael Cho, illus.

I admit it. I was once an addict. While growing up, I became hooked on junkie lit – Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries and Junkie by William S. Burroughs – anything that involved needles entering veins and the resulting mind-numbing haze.

I’m a grown up now, which means only that, as far as literary tastes go, I want more, faster, better. I want to feel junkie pathos coursing through my brain. I want to experience the vile and loathsome drag of days. I want to understand the urge for complete and utter self-annihilation. I found very little of this, though, in Toronto filmmaker John L’Ecuyer’s first novel, Use Once and Destroy.

At first, I tried to ignore its brief, episodic nature. I wanted to forget the way it was derivative of other great books about drug abuse. But I couldn’t. It just felt too familiar, too, dare I say, Trainspotting-esque (if only!). I tried to let it go. I moved through the first section – pithy profiles of the protagonist’s doped-up friends – searching for something to make it all matter. But well into the book I realized I wasn’t going to find it. Use Once and Destroy is a tease, a short book of snapshot moments, Irvine Welsh meets Todd Klinck.

It wasn’t until I hit the second section, My Story, that I experienced that familiar rush. At last, the real stuff – agony, abscesses, methadone treatments, turning tricks for smack. For 50 very short pages – adorned with the expressive drawings of Michael Cho, I revelled in some wonderfully excessive and spontaneous writing.

There are the more-than-occasional, rollicking, speed-crazy moments that made me think that if L’Ecuyer had stuck with it, he would have really got down to something new: “Red Theo was fat pale and smelled of flesh on those hot humid days when I thought I’d throw up just standing beside his holiness my dealer on one of those stinky wretch-filled days.” The writing is luminous, the images burst on collision, but the story is clichéd: the drug dealer as deity to L’Ecuyer’s helpless junkie. We’ve heard this before with less style, perhaps, but certainly more conviction.

And that’s it. Nineteen bucks for little more than an hour’s worth of reading – and I was high for what? Twenty minutes? Never again, I vow, before hurrying over to my local dealer to see what other books he’s got.