Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dopefiend - Donald Goines

The white powder looked innocent lying there in the open, but this was the drug of the damned, the curse of mankind: heroin, what some call "smack," others "junk," "snow," "stuff," "poison," "horse." It had different names but the same effect. To all of its users-to all of the dopefiends in the Detroit ghetto-it was slow death. 

Holloway House Books, Reprinted in 2007, cover by Jeffrey

I've read some brutal books but not many come as close as this novel from 1971 does in taking the reader into the hell of addiction. It's basically a simple plot that follows a young couple, Terry and Teddy, as they fall into heroin addiction. Terry is a beautiful young woman from a middle-class family with a promising future. She works for a high end department store downtown, has high school behind her, her own set of wheels, and is preparing for college. Her boyfriend Teddy isn't a bad kid exactly, but has allowed himself to take the easier routes in life. It's through Teddy that they're first introduced to Porky, the local dealer. Porky lives in an apartment that is a second home to his customers, addicts, or as they're constantly referred to in the novel, dopefiends. Porky knows just what it takes to lure wide-eyed innocents like Teddy and Terry into his control. A free taste here, a hit on credit there, and soon enough, he's got them hooked. Especially Terry. Teddy is merely the means to get Terry under Porky's control. In the mix are various petty criminals, con artists, prostitutes and killers. Porky also likes to get his kicks watching his girls get freaky with his two dogs. And that's just for starters.

The novel focuses mostly on Terry as she first tries heroin to keep up with Teddy. She's not going to become an addict like the other wretches she's seen in Porky's pad. She's smarter than that. She's convinced that she can stop when she'll have to. But in the meantime, there is her paycheck to get the kicks, then merchandise from the department store she works at, then money from her parents, then a trick or two in the back of a car. And the junk-need is soon an all-consuming drive that she can no longer fight.

Teddy takes a more direct route into addiction. When Terry is no longer willing to steal for him, or give him money from her paycheck, there is shoplifting to carry him along. Then stealing appliances when that isn't enough. It's cool for a little while, until his two cutting buddies are gunned down after a botched robbery. From there it's a short stint at pimping, which fails when his girls are jacked by the cops. Life gets only more desperate and violent as his life spins out of control.

Donald Goines wrote his novels from direct experience. He lived the life of a junkie that started for him in the military after a middle-class upbringing. Influenced by Iceberg Slim (Pimp, Trick Baby, Mama Black Widow to name a few of his novels) Goines wrote Dopefiend in 1971, and went on to write over a dozen more novels after that. His novels focused on life in the ghetto, the life he reported on firsthand. His writing was his escape from a life of crime and addiction. A way of life that tragically ended for him when he was murdered in 1974 at the age of thirty-seven.

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