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Don’t read Tony O’Neill’s ‘Digging the Vein’ because you think this is edgy writing that colorfully depicts a junkie’s life, or that it is in the underground tradition of writers like William Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr., or that O’Neill is the new voice of a young, disaffected generation seeking solace in kicks. Don’t read this book if you are looking for a message of recovery and hope, or the return from the dark night of the soul to the world of the living. Rather, read this book for what it is: the story of a writer who lays down the truth page after page, not sparing himself or the reader on his journey to find the part of him that is left to love.
‘Digging the Vein’ is brutally honest and unsentimental in depicting the main character’s (read author’s) addiction that leads to his near disintegration and, ultimately, to his redemption. I admit that I may be biased, having been a fan of Tony O’Neill’s for some time, having read everything by him that I could get my hands on through the on-line ‘zines, his wonderful story in ‘The Savage Kick # 2,’ and his own new website (www.tonyoneill.net). However, reading O’Neill novel was a revelation, not just in terms of the brutal initiation into the world of junkies, crack houses, sleazy motels, the drugged out world of LA, but in terms of what writing can be when it is honest, effortless, and leaves a piece of its soul on the page.
The plot of the book is irrelevant. There are tales of scoring, lost friendship, lovers, and, above all, the love affair with the “high” that makes the user bargain with the devil himself to live another day. There is also the story of junk withdrawal, clinics, methadone treatments, and always the sickness and need that pervades the lives of the users. Moreover, there is the pain of desire, not just for the drugs, but for a meaning and purpose to life, which is what lifts this story beyond just talking about addiction to talking about what really matters: our ability to remain authentic in a world that sadly denies us this right.
‘Digging the Vein’ will make you squirm while it offers no mercy, yet it is a profound book that carries with it its own sense of grace. The very hands that injected the dope into his veins are the same hands that have found that creation matters, that love can offer hope, that knows the power to tell is glory. And O’Neill has written one glorious book. When I finished it, I felt strangely at peace. I felt with the narrator and I felt for him. I wanted to share his pain and to sanction his forgiveness.
Read this book if you want to experience the power of writing that can transform. Dig Tony O’Neill; there is wisdom and truth in his pages.
Reproduced with permission
Zsolt Alapi was born in Budapest, Hungary and grew up in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, where he now lives. He is the former editor of the little magazine, Atropos, (winner of the Pushcart Prize) and has published poetry and fiction in various magazines in Canada, the U.S. and Britain, most recently in Front and Centre. He recently published a chapbook of stories, ‘Three Stories,’ (Mercutio Press, Montreal, Quebec, 2004). Zsolt teaches at Marianopolis College and Concordia University and has completed a Ph.D. at McGill University (Montreal) on Robert Creeley and Postmodern Poetics. He also edited a collection of poetry and short fiction, ‘Vistas’ and has written on the poetry of Pound, Williams, and Olson.
|DIGGING THE VEIN
by Tony O'Neill
(Contemporary Press 2006)
Reviewed by Zsolt Alapi
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