When we meet Max, she’s lying on the beach, drug sick and hoping to stay clean for the day. As she flails in her attempts to find her way out of debt and off of drugs, her exhaustion deepens to desperate proportions. Violence and drug use haunt this gritty account of the dark world that blisters just below the gleaming surface of Los Angeles. Matheson captures both sides, and she does so with a wink, choosing offbeat and surreal elements such as a talking drugstore angel shoplifted from Rite Aid.
Michele gives an overview of the book:
Max lies on the beach with one night clean. The sickness is beginning, and still, she has an odd, vaguely familiar feeling of being alive. Considering it’s a typical Los Angeles winter morning, about fifty degrees, and she’s down to a hundred pounds, not a lot of hair on her head, and coming off heroin, she’s surprised she hasn’t frozen to death. She can thank a Canadian postwoman’s jacket for that. The ocean’s rushing and waiting sounds put everything into perspective. It rumbles and sighs like it’s lonely. She listens.
The surf is a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes it’s calm. It sleeps and dreams. And underneath, the fish, the plants, they move like eyes rolling back and forth under the surface of an eyelid. Other times the sea swells like a heart. A big wave could kill me, Max thinks. She sees herself float on it. The sun is drying the salt in her eyebrows and nose. It’s easy to appreciate these things when it seems you’re going to die.
Max sneezes. Her eyes water and she wipes them. She holds her hands in front of the sun to block the light. The waves come at her. They come in and go out again, over and over. The ocean is either very giving or it’s completely nuts.
The veins on Max’s hands are green—same color as the Pacific. The idea of relief floats into her mind: sticking the needle in real fast and hard, pushing down on the plunger instead of a careful tap tap tap. That would feel good.
Then she remembers Ernest’s line: “What would love do?”
Max had looked at Ernest from where she sat; on the toilet, balancing the needle and the bag of dope on her lap, holding the warm crack pipe in her hand. It wasn’t a test question—his mind wasn’t made up yet. His white knuckles squeezed the doorknob. The other hand he put in his pocket because he wanted to punch the door or smash the crack pipe in the tub, but he’d done that before. She knew that he was asking her to make his decision. What should she have said?Love would never leave? She watched the tentacle connecting them fall to the floor, twitching and bleeding like a hooked eel. Her cells tightened, suffocating what light was left inside her.
“I don’t know,” she’d said. If he would just stop looking at me and shut the damn door, I can finish this hit. She’d had the urge to throw a bar of soap at him so he’d get out.
Ernest, like he was sorry, like he was wrong, said, “It would save me from you.” And then he left.
The sand is hard under her body. Her legs ache. Inside her chest is a pain like something belongs there.
How do people love one another? Max pretends she’s the ocean reaching for the shore. No one is on the beach. She imagines it’s summer. She sees kids and adults throwing themselves at the waves, diving in them, turning their backs to them. The waves just take it and come back for more.
They never stop.
Matheson's promising debut, a gritty novel from Tin House Books' New Voice Series, tells the bleak story of a wayward L.A. junkie named Max. Virtually disowned by her dysfunctional parents, out of a job,...