Long after the last drink is poured and the final gunshot fired, Cheryl Della Pietra's novel inspired by her time as Hunter S. Thompson's assistant will linger in your mind.
Alley Russo is a recent college grad desperately trying to make it in the grueling world of New York publishing, but like so many who have come before her, she has no connections and has settled for an unpaid magazine internship while slinging drinks on Bleecker Street just to make ends meet. That's when she hears the infamous Walker Reade is looking for an assistant to replace the eight others who have recently quit. Hungry for a chance to get her manuscript onto the desk of an experienced editor, Alley jumps at the opportunity to help Reade finish his latest novel.
After surviving an absurd three-day trial period involving a .44 magnum, purple-pyramid acid, violent verbal outbursts, brushes with fame and the law, a bevy of peacocks, and a whole lot of cocaine, Alley is invited to stay at the compound where Reade works. For months Alley attempts to coax the novel out of Walker page-by-page, all while battling his endless procrastination, vampiric schedule, Herculean substance abuse, mounting debt, and casual gunplay. But as the job begins to take a toll on her psyche, Alley realizes she's alone in the Colorado Rockies at the mercy of a drug-addicted literary icon who may never produce another novel and her fate may already be sealed.
I went into this book with some Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas baggage. I was beyond bored and unimpressed with the film when I was in high-school and had to hide my true feelings about it so I could be cool and fit in with my friends. Every time so-and-so made a reference to the film, I just nodded in agreement about how cool it was or whatever. Kind of like in college when I pretended to know and understand all the kool kid references to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Every time it came up in conversation at a party or study group gone rogue, I just nodded my head and was like, Oh, yeah. Of course I’ve read that! Who hasn’t?! In reality, I was like what the frug is everybody talking about?! Kool-Aid Acid whaaat? I finally looked up the author and synopsis and new in a heart beat that it wasn’t my type of lit. It was the same way I had felt about Fear and Loathing, so I was skeptical going into this fictionalized ”memoir” of a fresh-faced journalist’s live-in experience with Hunter S. Thompson.
It’s good to know I’m not quite as dorky as I used to be. For the most part, I was able to read this book and understand most of the drug and pop culture references of the 90s. The author’s clever and cynical voice is where the gold is at. Honestly, I didn’t give a squirrel bum about the story line. But I was so drawn in by the author’s witty script that I couldn’t seem to put the book down…until the last fifty pages. I kind of blurred through the last fourth of the book because the scenarios were repetitive and predictable by then, and the wonderfully sarcastic style in which the narrator speaks wasn’t enough by then to keep me totally invested.
I LOLED hard at the scene below:
I make my way back to the blanket where Larry sits. “You look nice. Coming down that hill, the light behind you…”
“Yeah, like a tampon commercial for the American West.”
“You’re not one for ‘moments’, are you?”
“I am if you need someone to kill them.”
The author is marvelous at recreating the atmosphere of Hunter S. Thompson’s world in the late mid/late 90’s. There were times I thought Man, this chick is dumb while reading, but I liked the MC for the most part. I think Pietra genuinely captured the kind of feelings/thoughts/emotions that would be going through any young lady’s mind if they were thrown into Thompson’s world: Do I act cool and go along with this even if I’m scared shitless and my mother would die if she knew?
I’m not gonna lie. Midway through the book, snorting a few lines before a breakfast of vodka tonic started to sound appealing. Hunter S. Thompson just has that effect on the junkie-life, I guess. He makes it look perfectly manageable. I will also say (as a warning to any Hunter S. Thompson idolize-rs out there) that this book fully reinforced in my mind that Thompson was an egoist, selfish, primadonna prick.