Book review: Heathenish by Kelby Losack

Available from Amazon

“I have this dream where I’m floating in outer space, sniffing stardust off the rings of Saturn, and Helene—one of Saturn’s sixty-something moons—hangs over my head, its surface cracking in a horizontal line and splitting open like a mouth with sharp rocks for teeth. The noise Helene makes when she inhales is the soundtrack of a head-on collision played backwards. She breathes me in and shuts her mouth. It’s like a cave inside of her. I see everything in infrared night vision. I see myself sitting on a rock and when I notice me noticing myself, I look up from the rock with eyes that are all pupils and I speak in two voices at once: one voice dropped thirty octaves below normal, like chopped and screwed tone, the other a whispering echo. I tell myself, the world as you know it is in your hands. The end of you is the end of it all. I watch myself vanish off the rock and I jerk awake with the feeling of falling.”

Heathenish is a valuable book which provides insight into the down-and-out lower class members of society relying on a lawless drug culture and camaraderie to survive and thrive and find joy where they’re born into a life with seemingly little value. Think of drugs and violence being a part of your everyday life. Love it or hate it, these are the cards you’re dealt.

Kelby Losack’s writing captures lower class American life with remarkable clarity and heart. It’s easy to look down on drug and violence as poor life choices, but what we see here is the skin peeled back on stereotypes and classist judgements and we see the raw, exposed lives of those drug addicts and dealers and deadbeat fathers who try to make a life for themselves. From this perspective each decision carries a lot of weight and conflict. Drugs are a connection to friends and family, as well as an escape from the bleak reality that your life holds little value in the bigger picture. Drugs are a coping mechanism. A means for survival. Dealing drugs are a way to make ends meet, to provide and support those around you, while also running the risk that you could be caught out and lose everything. The concept of going clean is an abstract dream, distancing yourself from your peers in the risk that you may not have enough to bring home or to pull your life around and start giving back to the capitalist society which placed you on the bottom.

It’s hard. It’s tough. It’s gritty and real. Losack does a fantastic job getting in the head of such a character, you wouldn’t be surprised if he told you it was all coming from personal experience. That may be true, I don’t know. But I do know that he’s got a voice which is sharp and engaging. It really helped me to understand a perspective, a whole world, a culture quite unlike my own, and to empathise with such characters which I believe are far more common in this world than you might imagine, but their voices are often drowned out by a society which rejects them. I can’t wait to see what more Losack has to offer. This is a fantastic debut.

Next review: Drinking Until Morning by Justin Grimbol

Last review: Fortune Box by Madeleine Swann

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