Missy

By CHRIS HANNAN

Scottish playwright Chris Hannan makes his debut as a novelist with Missy, a rollicking tale of prostitution and opium addiction in the American West of the 1860s. While traveling through the Sierra Nevadas, “flash girl” Dol McQueen stumbles across a crate of opium, guarded by a nervous pimp who gives her the “missy” in an effort to keep it from falling into the hands of a sadistic gang of kids hot on his trail. Dol is only too happy to take possession because, at 19, she?s already an addict who will sleep with the dirtiest of men for a few hours of gonged-out bliss: “When you take missy you spread out like a peacock?s tail, and it feels like that?s the number of eyes you have.” Of course, this makes it hard to keep the opium long enough to sell it and buy her way out of the business. The story is told through Dol?s eyes, and it?s here Hannan excels with the fearless and funny voice of a lower-class heroine scratching her way up toward redemption. When she?s high, Dol has “eyes like a piece of taxidermy,” and the smell of the drug is like “a dirty slum girl with a mouth full of colored candy.” While there are distracting lapses in plausibility — the opium?s original owner all-too-readily gives up the valuable stash, for example — Hannan?s vigorous style keeps us engaged in Dol?s quest to save herself from a life of missy and misery.

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