Jane says, I’m done with Sergio / He treats me like a rag doll.

The line is from Jane’s Addiction and it’s playing on a mix-tape over and over again, as the unnamed narrator and her slacker-rocker boyfriend – referred to only as the Alcoholic – careen down the highway faster and further into the murk of their six-year relationship. The Long Haul, Amanda Stern’s debut novel released by the hip indie-lit publisher Soft Skull Press tells a stark, disturbing story enveloped in a right-on, half-embarrassing, half-nostalgic ’90s-era indie scene of college towns and big city dive bars.

In this little book, Stern creates a patchwork of moments only half-lived by the characters inhabiting them. Through a blur of cheap booze, chain-smoked Camels, skunk weed, and shady blotter acid, the most fiercely numbing drug of all is revealed as the dopamine fix of a desperate, caustic, and controlling love.

With every page turned, flipping forward and backward through time, the novel reveals the Alcoholic as more dependent on the narrator than he is on the beloved bottle. He threatens that if she ever leaves, “I’ll fucking drown my fucking self, shoot my brains out on the Williamsburg Bridge.” But the best revelations, the ones you keep hoping for, pop out in deliciously considered moments, realized wholly and yet sporadically through the snow-covered murk of their dead-end relationship. In these poignant flashes of clarity, she realizes she’s obviously smarter than him, smarter than this relationship she’s found herself in, but the lines of communication seem dead and all hope broken. Will she grow, move on and take it all with her? The trip, though rough at times, is worth the discovery.

John Vincler

 

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