Been a lot of reviews of Tony O’Neill’s DIGGING THE VEIN and why not, it’s a great book. Everybody talking about it, recommending it. Yeah, me too. A very compelling story. Young British rock star goes to LA. Eighteen years old, irresistibly drawn to the never-ending party. Eventually finds the one high he’s always been looking for – heroin.
Quickly descends into the darkest deepest hole of the great American subculture. It’s inevitable, this is what he came here to find. The walk on the wild side; the lowest depths of depravity of human nature. And no apology from O’Neill. No judgmental moralizing or cursing the dark. Just a straightforward description of what is. An existential look at non-existence.
There’re some truths in the story that are worth knowing. For example, for the alienated individual, drug addicts will accept you without question, as long as you’re one of them. It’s a welcoming, open, common bond community, by necessity if nothing else. The drawback is – anyone will rip off anything from anyone anytime; also by necessity. Another thing, an opiate addict is completely self-contained, self-fulfilled in his own little world. It is his universe and he lacks for nothing and seeks nothing (except the obvious).
Personally, I’ve always thought of IV drug use as strangely similar to religion and sex, in a solipsistic sort of way. The phallic needle constantly seeking the hungry eager vein; and then firing in the all-orgasmic juice. O’Neill doesn’t reference that aspect but he does admit another truth, the religious-type ritual can be as powerful and compelling as the drug itself. Like the holy spiritual feeling of the ritual/routine of church going might be as powerful as whatever words are said there. A habit that consumes everything else. And the smug superiority of having the ‘in’ that others could never imagine.
It’s an easy connect to say that addicts worship at the almighty altar of endorphin catalyst; completely renouncing their lives, like nuns or priests to become fanatic followers of their chosen god. But there’s also a constant tension in O’Neill’s book. Like knowing you’re killing yourself and everyone else, but powerless against the lure of serenity. Keep that ripping clawing cat at bay, to paraphrase Gregg Allman.
Anyway, as fascinating as those aspect may (or may not) be, that’s not what makes this a great book. It’s the writing, the words, the way O’Neill puts it all together to tell a story. You actually start to physically feel like you’re a part of it. Like you’re one of the characters he’s writing about – strung out, annoyed, edgy; living in the seedy underworld of back alley dope dealers and junkies.
But for some reason (it’s the writing, stupid) instead of feeling disgusted or revolted by this dark vision of the world, O’Neill’s story is intriguing, absorbing, to the point where you just wanna keep reading to see what happens next. But don’t take my word for it, listen to the way Tony O’Neill tells a story.