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Cody James

Cody James is the author of The Dead Beat and Babylon. She works as a writer and visual artist.

Blurbs

A raw and relentless portrait of drug addiction, this book is rather too sincere for its own good."

– The Guardian

"At the heart of The Dead Beat, beneath the dirt, disease, ugliness, apathy, paranoia and bile that seems to surround them from every side, there is a dark beauty in the black humour, warmth and affection that the close-knit circle have for each other."

– Jane Bradley

“Pitch-perfect in its portrayal of the frenetic aimlessness of restless minds.”

– Book Rambler

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The Dead Beat

His Stumbling, Almost Dream-like Existence

02/09/14

The Dead Beat is a coming of age story for the slacker generation — surely, this being what some might label as Slacker Fiction—those who find themselves between great swathes of adulthood (school and careers, namely), unstuck in time with nothing but (little) money to burn and carnal instincts to explore. It sheds light on a particular foursome of dysfunctional twenty-somethings, childhood friends—not just meth addicts, but addicts of alcohol, of themselves . . . addicts to wasting away — and The High, not only from drugs, but from various facets of life, the relationships they take for granted (as we all do) and reform (again, as we all do) and others we cultivate from chance meetings. From living on the fringe, from not being a sellout and doing your own thing.

There aren’t many likeable characters here, which isn’t necessarily a novel approach towards an empathetic audience (see, for instance, every character in Ellis’ Rules of Attraction, various Updike novels featuring Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, Leopold Bloom from Joyce’s Ulysses), but somehow you find yourself smiling at the antics of it all. Even though these people may be a far cry from you, there are parts of them you recognize in yourself and in your generation. These friends — lead by the affable-yet-burned-out one-time writer Adam, our guide into this world of debauchery and apathy — are addicts, users, and the story follows them, through their ramblings, through their few ups and many downs, seeing their friends suffer but doing nothing, standing idly by as the world, the lives they had once planned out, pass them by.

There are moments of clarity in the book where Adam “wakes up” from his stumbling, almost dream-like existence, and as much as we want him to kick his habits and grow up, he doesn’t. You realize this is real life, not any sort of make-believe, and there are people out there, in every city, in every town, just like this. It’s not easy to kick habits so engrained in you—and it’s the lifestyle in general, not the specificities of the lifestyle. Their daily regimens, what they have grown to expect out of life, has molded onto them like some second skin and can’t so easily be picked off. Only in the last few paragraphs do we see a change in a few of them after a heinous event transpires, one that, potentially, could rocket them all on the path to righteousness once and for all.

But then the book ends.  It’s gone. And we don’t know what actually does happen at this pivotal turning point: Do they see the error of their ways, the irreparable damage they’ve caused their bodies and their minds and move on, or do they go right back to their old ways, those familiar ways?  We don’t ever find out, and that’s the point, really, that it’s not up to us, that people in this position, they have to help themselves, so the book ends, taking it out of our hands entirely, letting these characters’ lives live on in obscurity.

James’ writing is concise, not flashy, and rarely deviates from its set course — it lays out for us, almost diorama-like, the sets and characters, and doesn’t need this glitz and glamour that many young writers feel is necessary but, more often than not, isn’t. In fact, her terse style — which readily avoids fluttering up in the clouds with long, drawn out idioms and unnecessary dialog — strengthens the story: It’s these maddening, heart-wrenching characters, the snippets of human we see in them from time to time and their interactions, and the experiences they fall backwards into, that define the book, and with such color already present, anything more would take away and lessen the impact.

The Dead Beat truly offers a worm’s-eye-view of the world, through one deadbeat after another, and while there are plenty out there who have written or will continue to write about the dredge of society — those oft-overlooked “slackers” that represent, on a much larger scale, all of us in general (but, who are too afraid to let go, some might argue, as the dredge find so easy to do) — but James does it with such wit and style, with such a tight narrative that opens up just enough to let us in and poke around without overdoing it and creating pointless caricatures, one wonders how any could ever top her.

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