Crutching through record amounts of snow and ice with a broken leg would be a last-resort act of survival for most people. For Gregory Sacchet, however, the opening scene of his memoir is quickly revealed as an act of pitiful, misguided desperation. Driven by addiction, he makes the harrowing three-hour trek for a paltry half-gram of cocaine. Not only does he get his fix, but he inflicts further damage on the fractured leg bones. No matter – it’s all in a day’s work for a junkie.
In this cautionary tale of drug abuse, readers are pulled into a repulsive, wasting world where every waking thought is riveted on how to get more coke. Jobs are undertaken and fall by the wayside. Friendships, built on the flimsy foundation of mutual drug use, eventually crumble. Shady connections are made with a widening, then shrinking, circle of dealers. Cars are wrecked. A marriage is threatened. Legal troubles ensue. Everything you would expect to happen in the wake of a serious, long-term addiction, happens.
So why does a man who hails from a relatively stable home life descend into the murky netherworld of drugs? Well, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is one reason. Though this significant revelation is delivered early on, it seems to be forgotten nearly as quickly as the last coke high, only to be mentioned sporadically as the story jogs along. All the physical anguish responsible for Sacchet’s downturn is rarely alluded to as the years – 13 of them – flash by. This is puzzling, especially given that the “assault” waged by this disease compelled the author to make an unnecessary, troubling comparison between his lot and that of dying cancer patients.
“When a body is ravaged by incurable cancer, at least there is a pattern. Sicknesses, followed by a brief recovery, then relapse, perhaps another round of recovery, followed by a full assault of the cancerous demon, then death. No real mysteries there.”
But here’s a mystery: As it turns out, MS is not really at the root of Sacchet’s fall from grace. Halfway through the book, readers are hit with yet another telling revelation: The author spent his youth suffering the indignities of Tourette’s syndrome, which led him to beer drinking and boxing as a means of escaping his pain and evening the odds with the bullies in his life. To combat the resulting hit to his self-esteem, he took drugs to “feel good” about himself again. Because this important information is withheld so long, the reader stands to feel blindsided rather than enlightened by the admission.
A lack of dialogue, repetitive rants about the evil of drugs, and a tendency to “tell” about events rather than “show” through action, add further drag to the story’s movement and spoils a sense of suspense. Still, there are moments that will give readers pause, such as when Sacchet finally comes clean and seeks help on his own volition. Finally, there is a sense of relief that redemption is on the horizon.
Though STRAIGHT LINES would work much better if it moved in chronological order, Sachette earns points for having the courage to hold up a mirror and let the public take a long, measured look. This book is sure to appeal to anyone who has experienced, directly or otherwise, the hellishness of addiction.
At times, the writing may be a bit superfluous and rambling, but the point of STRAIGHT LINES won’t be lost on readers: Drugs are bad – really, really, bad.
Reviewed by Libby Swope Wiersema for IndieReader.