Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pain relief

In 2006, Oregon became the first (and remains the only?) state to require prescriptions for what was over-the-counter pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed), in an attempt to stop easy access to the main ingredient of methamphetamine, or meth. This was right about the same time that Laurel Daneau discovered meth -- provided by her goodtime boyfriend T-Boom -- in Jacqueline Woodson's short novel, Beneath a Meth Moon: An Elegy. Laurel is from the small Gulf of Mexico town of Pass Christian, Mississippi, which was devastated by the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina.  Laurel evacuated with her father and infant brother, but her mother and grandmother -- who refused to leave -- were drowned.  In crisis, the family relocates several years later to a small town named Galilee in the Midwest.

It is there that 15-year-old Laurel meets the basketball star T-Boom (one of those idiot white boys who think they want to be black), and where T-Boom introduces her to meth. Laurel calls meth "moon," and craves it for the way that fills the void from her loved ones' deaths and lightens the load of all the things that she's lost. She spirals down, losing family and friends, but is ultimately saved by a street artist named Moses (are you getting all the Biblical references?) -- who paints outdoor memorial portraits of young people who have died from meth. Laurel is telling us her story from rehab; it is an elegy for her past and it is written in a very dreamlike, mournful style. While Woodson doesn't dwell on the least savory aspects of meth addiction (whether Laurel prostitutes herself for money is left unsaid), her physical decay is described with honesty and her recovery is not quite certain.

With Jacqueline Woodson, less is always more. She writes these economical gems (here are two that I've listened to) that skillfully explore big ideas. She doesn't judge Laurel, but she's not afraid to equate her small story with those from a larger canvas. (I write this several weeks after I finished listening to it; since then, I've been drowning for what seems like forever in a bloated behemoth of a novel, making me long for Woodson's spare, intelligent prose.)

Cassandra Campbell reads the novel in an appropriately somber style, tinged with a Southern accent. She sounds much more girlish than I've sensed in previous listens, and captures Laurel's meth highs and love of the "moon" with excitement and an edge of hysteria. As she comes off the drug, the despair and loneliness are clear in her voice as well. Campbell is skilled, of course, in character portrayals and she does a good job -- from a Mississippi grandmother to Laurel's toddler brother to the strung-out T-Boom to her all-American, Midwestern best friend.  Her pronunciation of Pass Christian (pass-kris-SHYAN) seemed awkward to me, but the internet tells me that she is nearly correct.

There's been a mini moon theme to my listening for the past month, with this and this. I'm sure it means something. My unreliable blogstream of consciousness sends me from The Last Werewolf to the shocking news that its narrator, Robin Sachs, died suddenly this month. I was looking forward to listening to him again, which is fortunately possible, as he narrated a large library of audiobooks. I hope that is some comfort to his friends and loved ones. And, as the blogstream moves on, I am reminded of the eeriness of listening to the voice of a dead person, or rather a dead person you knew. The wife of a dear deceased friend has never taken his voice off of their answering machine. It startles me nearly every time I hear it.

And on that elegiac note ...

[The photograph of crystal meth was taken by Psychonaught and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Beneath a Meth Moon: An Elegy by Jacqueline Woodson
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Brilliance Audio, 2012. 3:42

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