NEAR THE END OF Glory Goes and Gets Some, a collection of intertwined short stories by Emily Carter, the narrator admonishes the reader, "never assume the painful part is over."
For most of the preceding pages, Glory B. spends her time diverting neighbor kids from her AZT bottles, coercing herself not to blow her newfound and hard fought sobriety, and pondering the right way to word a personal ad in a magazine for people with AIDS.
Never assume the painful part is over.
Glory, like Nelson Algren's Frankie Machine, lives in the shadow of her name. The similarities don't end there: Each clings to the frigid but bosomy Midwest where addiction doubles as metaphoric descriptor, and hardboiled actuality. Both writers play jazz songs with language, and then dance on reportorial passages drunk on implications they pound into your head. Or as Algren writes in the graffiti on a jail cell wall in his The Man with the Golden Arm, "Everybody shut up. If you were any good, you wouldn't be in here."
While Glory is not born of the same industrial cast as Frankie Machine, she searches him out the way her drugged-out contemporaries track Lou Reed, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Glory is a lifer; even if she makes it out, she wears Frankie's toe tag like it were her own. She's carrying a lethal passenger, and one day that passenger will eat her whole. While Frankie will find no kind ending, Glory struggles to free herself from herself. Her America is smaller, older, devoid of the manufactured façade of Algren's. Gone is the Federal Medical Center, where recidivistic junkies were sent, to live out there lives, or to finally catch the "cure." Instead, Glory witnesses an entire economy built upon the foundations of twelve-step group therapy — housing complexes, treatment center jobs, personal identities that clung to the shadows of every day conversation in Algren's time. Like Carter writes, "Here is where it gets brilliant: for the cure of addiction to any chemical you can name, Minneapolis is the place to go."
This book revolves around Glory, and Carter delivers her to us unerringly. From the story Parachute Silk: "Here was Glory, beloved baby girl of professional parents, going into neighborhoods her great-grandfather had worked all his life to get his family out of, sniffing around for heroin, the opiate of the people. Marie Antoinette in her little peasant dress, Glory in her leather jacket."
Whereas Algren's Division Street served as a Petri dish to dissect the underbelly of American imperialism, a place where universal truths congregated with black market depravity, Glory seizes in a smaller world. She lets some common light of universality in the room, but for the most part she draws the shades closed so individual truths can run roughshod over her, and her descent. Malaise carries with Glory as she stumbles from the Lower East Side to the Pacific Northwest, until she lands, negligibly repentant, in Minneapolis.
In Algren's hands:
The great secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one. Guilt that lay crouched behind every billboard which gave each man his commandments; for each man here had failed the billboards all down the line. ...All had gone stale for these disinherited. Their very lives gave off a certain jailhous...