Only Bones by Daniel Vlasaty

The main character in Daniel Vlasaty‘s Only Bones (All Due Respect Books) has only three things that drive him: snorting amphetamines, thinking about where his next batch of pills, and riding his bike through the streets of Chicago.

Daniel, the protagonist of Only Bones, is a bike messenger and is running out of pills to pop, so he heads over to his dealer’s apartment with only a few dollars in his pocket and a larger amount fronted — the dealer’s hook, the junkie’s lifeline. His dealer, Lawrence, is his only friend or as close to a friend that any junkie can have. Daniel starts working off his debt by delivering and picking up packages for his dealer. First stop a drug dealer named Elf.

My spit nothing but a thick paste. Dry and clumpy.

I try to work up some saliva in my mouth to wash away the dry-mouth taste. But I’ve got nothing.

All these pills for all these days have left me shriveled and crispy.

They’ve dried me out from the inside.

For a second I’m able to forget that I have an envelope full of cash in my bag.

Right on my back.

No idea how much cash is in it. Never thought to ask.

I don’t even know what I’m buying. What or how much.

I’m just the delivery man. I don’t need to know all the details.

But the cash in this envelope is definitely more than I’ve ever had in my possession.

If you add up all the money I’ve ever had or made in my entire life it’s still probably less than what I have in my bag right now.

It’s a lot of money.

A lot of money that Lawrence has trusted me with.

We’re either better friends than I thought we were or Lawrence is the stupidest motherfucker to ever do business in this city.

Why would anyone trust some junked-out asshole like me with probably thousands and thousands of dollars?

Vlasaty writes in a stream-of-conscious Ode to Speed. Whether he writes about the rush of the amphetamines hitting a junkie’s blood stream or the drool of a drug addict’s body shutting down or the shit that Daniel and Lawrence get into with Elf, Only Bones makes for some fast-paced good reading.

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No Happy Endings by Angel Luis Colón

 The first order of business for me when reading Angel Luis Colón’s No Happy Endings (Down & Out Books) was getting myself out of the rollicking NYC universe of The Fury of Blacky Jaguar (review) and planted into the Fantine Park’s New York which is at the minimum more structured.

At its core, No Happy Endings is a heist novella and as most heist stories go, it goes pear-shaped. Colón opens the book in 2007 with a simple donation at a sperm bank. Not an ordinary sperm bank, it turns out to be something out of the movie Clockwork Orange. I did not and will not do any research on the workings of this mechanical sperm extraction — I’ll take Colón’s word for it.

The next chapter set in 2007 introduces us to Park, a young Korean-American who has just electronically robbed a New York horse track/casino. She is quickly tracked down and arrested in an Atlantic City casino.

The book gets it real start five years later; Park is free and no longer on parole. Just as she hopes to get her life back in order with work, not drinking, and spending time with her father, she is strong-armed into a heist by an old mob boss. As Hurricane Sandy approaches the New York metropolitan area, Park balances the threats against her father and herself with planning a heist of the sperm bank. The relationship between Park and her father is a beautiful detail that Colón come back to several times.

He took the beer with a small nod. Held it back up to her. “You act like these hands can open this goddamn thing.”

Fantine smirked and opened the bottle with a twist. “You whine like a baby.” She handed it over.

“I am a baby. That’s what happens when we get old. We all turn into toddlers. Gonna need diapers soon.”

“Toddlers are easier to deal with.” Fantine pulled a chair next to her father and slumped into it. The back pinched her shoulders, but she dealt with it.

Jae took a small sip of his beer and smiled. “Took my pills for the day, but I can’t say I care if this interferes with anything.” He smiled. “Your mother hated beer. Said it was for poor people.”

“Yet we lived in a two-bedroom apartment my whole life.”

“She was cheap.”

Fantine laughed. “No shit.”

Colón explains the Chinese black market for American sperm, but the story is so good in No Happy Endings we don’t care — a good example of how to build a useful (or useless) MacGuffin. Instead, we root for Park to navigate through the assorted criminals who try to deter her all the while she tries to keep her humanity.

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