Updated: Mar 21
This novel is about the life of an unnamed narrator. A narrator who is a junkie or dope fiend. A narrator who throughout the whole book makes it almost impossible for the reader to like him.
After returning from the Iraq War, he uses drugs to self-medicate his PTSD. The only thing that worries him is where his next “hit” is coming from.
If you are averse to graphic violence and profanity, then do not even open the cover of this book. There are no moral platitudes, the end of the tunnel has no light, and the word “hope” takes on a different meaning with this novel. However, it is one of the strengths of the novel. The protagonist does not have any type of filter. He does not care if what he says or what he does is morally correct. He cheats, he steals, all in the pursuit of money to pay for more drugs. He loves two things in life, drugs and his wife Emily. In that order. In fact, I am still trying to work out if he loves his wife. His treatment of women throughout the novel is deplorable. But he does not try to hide his actions or thoughts, he is what he is.
I don’t know if it is because of this guilelessness and sincerity, but I found myself hoping that he would somehow sort out the catastrophe of his life. When he refuses to kill somebody for money, I saw a glimmer, ever so slight, of hope. Remember this is a man who has been to war, witnessed death and violence. So, for him to draw the line here shows promise, a flicker of movement from the moral compass needle.
The novel gives the reader a view of the life of a junkie. The continuous, vicious circularity of their lives. Get money any way you can, score drugs, get high, run out of drugs, get sick, return to square one. As the desire for the drugs and the physical dependency becomes stronger, the user becomes weaker and sicker, losing their job, leading to crime, prison and death. It is a life of incredible highs and unbearable lows. A life that is unsustainable.
As the narrator inevitably runs out of money, he turns to robbing banks to fuel his addiction.
There is a similarity between his life in Iraq and his life now back home. A mind-numbing monotony. In Iraq, the endless patrols searching for insurgents. Back home the endless search for drugs.
The author of this book is in jail now and you cannot help but think how much of this actually happened? He does write at the end of the novel,
“This book is a work of fiction. These things didn’t ever happen. These people didn’t ever exist.”
However, he is in jail for bank robbery, served in the army as a medic, struggled with drug addiction. I think that it is obvious that the author is the protagonist. And I believe this enhances the readability of the novel, strengthening its authenticity and realism.
The two themes that the reader cannot help taking away from this novel are the drug crisis and the scourge of PTSD. Both these problems still very much exist today, and answers are scarce.
It makes you think if there is an answer to PTSD short of not sending soldiers to war. How can we expect to send these men and women, who have individuality drummed out of them, are desensitized to violence, trained to kill, to come back and just slot back into society without mental problems? To turn off all that training, and what they have seen and experienced like a switch.
Again, this will not be a book for everybody, but I found it to be, it almost feels wrong to say, an enjoyable read. For such a dark novel there are surprisingly many instances of humor, especially regarding the army. 4 Stars.
This novel has now been turned into a film on Apple TV starring Tom Holland. It is interesting in how the protagonist is portrayed, in my opinion, very differently from the novel.
Nico Walker is originally from Cleveland. He served as a medic on more than 250 missions in Iraq. Currently he has two more years of an eleven-year sentence for bank robbery. Cherry is his debut novel.
I enjoyed the movie immensely but as I said above I think the main character is portrayed very differently in both formats.