THE GREEN KANGAROOS
by Jessica McHugh
A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster
What if junkies really are speaking to ghosts?
What if being an addict isn’t nearly as horrible as we often make it out to be? What if true happiness is something that can’t ever be forced upon a person?
In McHugh’s twisted speculative fiction tale of addiction and loss, the drug-addled Perry Samson lives and breathes for atlys, a drug so rich in its addictive properties it is served up laced into the very flesh of its donors at the Kum Den Smokehouse, an old whorehouse turned five-star restaurant in the futuristic Patterson Park of Baltimore. With an older brother already dead from drug use, atlys has destroyed not only Samson’s life but the lives of all remaining family members.
But… has it?
There’s a surprising amount of heart in this novel that really begins to radiate toward the end. The pacing is masterful, with an at-first jolting but expediently tuned shift not only in perspective but point of view that works to drag you deep into depravity, kicking and screaming, straight down the hell chute into Perry’s repulsive world. It’s necessary. This works perfectly to cement the mind of the reader in a location where it truly needs to be to digest what is about to come.
Ribbons of Burroughs and Dick are blended into the base flavor of this novel, with no punches pulled. Those faint of heart or weak in the gut may want to give this one a pass. You won’t find any apologies here. Even hardcore aficionados of weird speculative fiction will find themselves tenting their eyebrows from time to time. Perry’s world is a very dark and dangerous place. But it’s nothing compared to the dysfunction within his family.
Therein lies the dark heart of this tale, deeply woven within the woolen fabric of addiction. Whose fault is it? And to what lengths should we go to “help cure” someone clearly not interested in being rescued?
I became immersed in the language, reveled in being led down dark alleyways and through one destitute setting after another, peeling back the scabs. This is especially powerful when told via the vantage point of Perry.
[…God, the state of him. His body is skeletal, full of scarred divots, but his face is the worst. His chin is less prominent, and his cheeks are completely gone. Without fat in his face, it’s no more than sallow bone. I consider the possibility that he’s dead. After all, it wouldn’t be my first corpse conversation of the day….]
But it’s the heartfelt moments that ground you in the harsh reality of our hero’s predicament, that really make you question what you’ve been told and taught, the narrative forced down all our throats.
[…The good things before my addiction have either been erased by drug use or were never there in the first place. There were no family trips, no school functions she chaperoned. She made no costumes and baked no cookies. She never helped me learn my lines for school plays….]
In particular, Perry’s sister (Nadine), who is still friends with his ex, seems to have the deepest hold.
[…”I don’t want to see you anymore, Perry. Neither do Mom, Dad or Serena. We’re ready to write you off as another loss….]
Such is the coarse psychology of this book. Viewed from both sides, the path to a “cure” becomes a rapidly forking network of heavily weighted decisions.
The most refreshing aspect to THE GREEN KANGAROOS (I won’t give away the meaning) is the way McHugh unapologetically turns the table on who’s to blame. Is it the addict causing all the suffering in the world? Or should the ones who supposedly love them shoulder more of the responsibility?
Hell, is anyone to blame?
This book will keep you turning the pages. It’s also full of fiendish twists, and plenty of appropriately developed sci-fi and tech to get your weird glands salivating. Looking forward to the sequel.