An Electric Literature Most Anticipated Debut of the Year
A Rumpus Most Anticipated Book of Next Year
"Tucker’s debut is full of raw honesty and assured, beautiful prose." —Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post
"A gritty, raw novel tackling female friendships and the opioid crisis, Bewilderness packs a punch that belies its size." —Juliana Rose Pignataro, Newsweek
"The kind of book that crawls under your skin and lodges there, Karen Tucker's Bewilderness offers an intimate, riveting portrait of two close friends whose hopes for their lives get derailed because of their addictions, and who struggle to figure out if having any future at all is something either of them will get to have . . . Tucker has written a powerfully intimate, heartbreaking portrait of this country's opioid epidemic, making clear the many ways that this isn't a problem happening to other people—it's happening to all of us, and it's imperative we deal with it together." —Kristin Iversen, Refinery29
"North Carolina writer Karen Tucker’s Bewilderness is a unicorn of a novel. It has a plot like a roaring freight train and every sentence is a well-polished gem. It’s about two best friends who are caught in the vicious cycle of addiction, and it’s dark and wild. But it’s really a story about friendship. I rarely believe those fatuous blurbs that begin 'I couldn’t put it down.' But I couldn’t." —Daniel Wallace, Garden & Gun
"Tucker conjures Irene through tone, pitch and diction more than through ongoing self-revelation. Irene doesn’t grow in the wake of precarity—except in her ability to organize her memories into a sound that is authentic to herself. Tucker isn’t interested in providing a model for those desiring to go clean, but rather the troubled clarity of someone who has done so. This spirited telling emerges by way of Tucker’s fine ear for expression stained by adversity and leavened by a comic vibe in a minor key." —Ron Slate, On the Seawall
"Tucker writes a poignant and heartbreaking novel about opioid addiction, friendship, and desire filled with memorable and beautifully written passages." —Debutiful
"Bewilderness vividly captures the opioid epidemic that has exploded across the nation since the early 2000s, and it especially devastates in its hopeless-seeming outset: there’s the promise that something worse will happen, that the drugs will, indeed, win. Tucker’s ruthlessness, however, reinforces the humanity of people with substance use disorder and demonstrates how wrong blaming individuals for their illness is. In the end, blame will not save you from a broken heart." —Sarah Apple Pine, Ploughshares
"Fans of Julie Buntin’s Marlena should take note of this debut from Karen Tucker, an immersive and raw examination of America’s opioid crisis told through the eyes of two teenage girls in rural North Carolina. As seductive and heartbreaking as such intense friendships can be, Bewilderness' diptych structure hurls the reader between past and present, demonstrating with remarkable clarity how the pull of an addictive past can disrupt and complicate the present." —Chicago Review of Books
"Raw, powerful, and unflinching, the novel immerses readers in the minute-by-minute mindset of addiction. Tucker skillfully flips between past and present, swapping the language of sobriety for the slang of active addiction to give readers a full picture of the pair’s mental state. A natural fit for fans of Julie Buntin’s Marlena, Tucker’s novel champions the strength it takes to stay clean when every other decision is so much simpler." —Booklist (starred review)
"This debut novel is filled with sharp, vivid descriptions of back roads and seedy meet-ups, which contrast with Irene’s dedication to Luce and her fervent belief in the future that might be possible if only the two of them can avoid thinking about Wilky's death and whether his fate, chosen or not, might also become their own. Absorbing and unflinching." —Kirkus Reviews
"Tucker astonishes in her devastating debut, a harrowing account of addiction, friendship, and loss . . . Tucker does a wonderful job locating Irene’s and Luce’s desire to live a better life beneath their tough exteriors . . . This keen awareness consistently adds depth and devastation. No matter the characters’ genuine longing to change, they are bound to their cyclical, unrelenting patterns. This is a stunning accomplishment." —Publishers Weekly
"Karen Tucker puts a human face on this ongoing public health catastrophe, as she tells the story of Irene and Luce, pill-addicts and best friends. More than merely evoking the desperation of opioid abuse, Bewilderness provides a funny and touching story of female friendship." ––The Millions, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
"Beautiful, gritty, and piercing, Bewilderness is a whirlwind journey through the highs and lows of friendship, love, and addiction. Luce and Irene are young, vulnerable, and utterly human, and you will root for them on every page despite their betrayals and failures. Karen Tucker fearlessly confronts the hardest question of allwhy? contrasting our brief and shining moments on this earth with the murky and inexplicable border between the here and hereafter. Bewilderness is a tough and tender heartbreak of a read." Erika Carter, author of Lucky You
"Karen Tucker's debut novel Bewilderness captures the relentless tug of addictionto a person, to a substance, to a feelingwith wrenching honesty and insight. This fierce, heartbreaking story of female friendship and lossnarrated by the wise, sharply funny Irenehad me riveted from the first page. Read it, read it, read it."Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
DEBUT Best friends Irene and Luce have been through a lot together. They live together, work together, become addicted and hustle for pills together, and get clean together. Irene is so attached to Luce that when Luce's boyfriend suddenly overdoses and dies and she relapses in despair, Irene goes back to drugs after 11 months of sobriety—to be with Luce. Luce's boyfriend is dead, and that's terrible of course, but it means that Luce is no longer going to leave Irene in the North Carolina mountains to move with him to Florida, and they are together again, just the two of them. Their relapses very quickly drop both women back into a world of chaos, of scamming, lying, and relying on strangers. Their downward spiral is difficult to read about, with graphic descriptions of Irene and Luce's drug use and the desperate, disturbing, dangerous decisions they make in pursuit of their next high—of a fleeting feeling of euphoria. VERDICT Tucker holds nothing back in this debut novel, describing addiction in unflinching terms, as well as human connection, vulnerability, and perseverance. The subject matter and descriptions in this book won't be palatable to every reader, but those who finish this work won't soon forget it.—Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA
Two best friends struggle with opiate addiction and poverty in North Carolina.
Irene is mourning the impending loss of her best friend and roommate, Luce, who's preparing to move to Florida with her boyfriend, Wilky, as the two have planned for a life far away from the opiates, users, and dealers they know. But after leaving Luce’s goodbye party, the two women find out that Wilky has been found dead after overdosing in his car outside the bar where he worked. When Luce has an asthma-induced panic attack, the ensuing treatment from paramedics ends a year of sobriety for both girls. Luce spirals in her grief, and Irene follows her back into the world of pills and increasingly dangerous situations. Narrating in both the present moment following Wilky's death and through intermittent flashbacks, Irene recalls how she and Luce initially bonded over abusive customers while waiting tables and how casual usage and hustles were suddenly much more serious when Luce fell in love with Wilky, a former addict who wanted to have a life together after he left the Army. Irene recalls her resentment of Wilky’s plans to take Luce away and how that warred with her desire for all of them to have a fresh start. “And yet," Irene thinks while sitting with Luce outside Wilky's bar, "as I watched her sink back into that numb bliss we used to spend all our time chasing, another pang for the old days went flaring through me. So what if I was clean, if I was also lonely and frightened?” This debut novel is filled with sharp, vivid descriptions of back roads and seedy meet-ups, which contrast with Irene’s dedication to Luce and her fervent belief in the future that might be possible if only the two of them can avoid thinking about Wilky's death and whether his fate, chosen or not, might also become their own.
Absorbing and unflinching.