*Before you read this, I haven’t explicitly said all of what happens in, or at the end of the book, but it is kind of spoilery, so if that thing upsets you, you might not want to read this!*
First impressions before reading the book:
I already knew the entire plot of the book, as I’ve seen the film many, many times. Normally I try to hold off watching films until I’ve read the book version, but in this case I don’t think I was aware of the book prior to seeing the film. I do love the film, therefore I went into this book knowing what happened, but I was still excited to read it.
Okay, if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, the plot is pretty harrowing. It switches between following Harry Goldfarb, his friend Tyrone and his girlfriend Marion, and following Harry’s mother, Sara Goldfarb. In short, it’s a tale about drug addicts. In long, it’s a horrible portrayal of the desperation of those with drug addictions, and how easily these addictions can take over your life, affecting your every move. It’s especially poignant in Sara’s case, as her determination to lose weight causes her to spiral out of control, something which unfortunately could happen to anyone in our ‘thinspiration’ instant result culture. Also, it’s eyeopening to the differing cultural acceptance within America, even if this book was written in 1978. The treatment that Harry and Tyrone are subjected to in their travels to the south of America, namely Florida, are still relevant to the struggles that black people face by close minded racists today, which is heartbreaking.
As I have already mentioned, the novel follows mostly Harry and Sara, in their respective struggles. In Harry’s case, from his and Tyrone’s entrepreneurial skills and Marion’s love of art and culture, it’s obvious that they are smart individuals who have been caught in the spiral of drug taking and are unable to break free from it’s clutches. Even at their best, they still recreationally take heroin often, mixing in other drugs ensuring that they are never truly as clean as they believe they are. Their descent into desperation is painful to read, and even though I have never experienced something like that, I felt like I could understand the struggle they were going through. Although it’s hard to read, Sara’s case is the one that really got to me. The novel is laden with Jewish stereotypes, portraying Sara as a stereotypical Jewish mother (from what I understand, doing some research about the book’s themes). For much of the book she is victim of her son’s drug habit, having to constantly buy her tv back from the pawn shop, and being locked in a cupboard. However, her life changes when she receives a phone call that she’s going to be on one of her beloved game shows. The desire to fit into a dress that reminds her of a happy time spent with her son and her deceased husband leads her to begin taking diet pills, and this in turn starts her on a downward spiral, which unfortunately is something that our culture of wanting instant results, coupled with the pressure to be skinny still promotes. What makes this novel so hard hitting is that the characters are relatable, and you genuinely want to see them set their lives straight.
Would I recommend it?
It’s not the easiest of reads, a lot of the novel is written in slang, with the characters being from The Bronx. From a person who has spent a grand total of 10 days in New York in their lifetime, I didn’t find it too difficult, but I imagine if you’re from the area you might have an easier time of it. I would definitely recommend this book, it’s an interesting and powerful insight into drug culture, even if it is a bit of a painful read. I would also completely recommend the film adaption from 2000, with Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, Jennifer Connelly and Ellen Burstyn, it’s a great film. I’ll pop a trailer below so you can take a look. But obviously, exercise your discretion in watching it, there’s a lot of drug taking and many distressing scenes, particularly towards the ending.
I’m still taking part in the 2016 Reading Challenge, you can find me over on Goodreads where I update what I’m reading more often! If there’s any books you think I should read, feel free to let me know.