"A very impressive book, all the more so because of its remarkable calm and restraint after such a terrifying experience." -Penelope Fitzgearld
"Ann Marlowe is a. . .relentless moral essayist and a secret poet. Her book burns as it goes down one's craw, and it keeps burning in memory." Luc Sante
"A self-portrait of a coolly cantankerous woman, reformed but unrepentant."The New York Times
"The little black dress of dope books. Smart, sleek and savagely subtle, Ms. Marlowe is the most gifted druggie to pop out of Harvard since the late Timothy Leary."Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight
"A self-portrait of a coolly cantankerous woman, reformed but unrepentant." The New York Times
Voices don't come any cooler -- in the sense of hip as well as of remote, uningratiating -- than the one Ann Marlowe writes with in How to Stop Time: Heroin From A to Z. (The only uncool thing about the book is its gimmicky subtitle.) Marlowe was that phenomenon unheard of in the literature of junk, the recreational user -- a concept, she notes, that many Americans will not countenance:
When I published a cover story on heroin in the
Village Voice in 1994, I got lots of nasty letters that
all agreed on one thing: because I emerged from
years of heroin use without noticeable health, career
or financial effects, I wasn't qualified to write about
dope. I didn't really have the experience, because
the sign of really having the experience is ruining
Marlowe had a serious but controlled habit for seven years, from 1988 to 1995; she snorted rather than shooting up ("never more than a bag a day"), and she always kept her head securely screwed on. "When I heard about rich acquaintances spending $200 or $300 a day on dope, my practical side took over. $2100 a week...I could buy a Chanel suit every week for that! I could lease a Ferrari!" She recoils from any notion of the addict as victim:
Not for a minute can I subscribe to the popular
view, encouraged by William Burroughs, of
addiction as uncontrollable need. Still less can I take
addiction as the excuse for bad behavior. No one
would condone a person who stole or neglected her
children because he or she was feeling bad from the
flu, and all but the severest dopesickness is no more
rigorous than a nasty flu. Unpleasant? Yes. Sufficient
explanation for amoral selfishness? Scarcely.
Her book contains what is probably the least histrionic, least hysterical writing about heroin to be found outside medical literature. And on top of that it's engaging and it's smart. The "A to Z" of the subtitle refers to the alphabetical arrangement of brief essays by topic/title: "Abstention," "Addiction," "Aging" and so forth. This arbitrary structure (or absence of structure) replicates, in a peculiarly apt way, the anomie of the drug experience -- it suggests the voluntary relinquishment of an otherwise available control. Yet at the same time, Marlowe's grimly rational aperçus are appealingly 18th century in the sculptural rigor of their execution. Spend enough time thinking about any topic and it can yield gold. The pleasures of the book lie less in Marlowe's argument, such as it is, than in her random acute perceptions:
Heroin inflects the East Village. It's like riding or
sailing in upper-class society: it's not that everyone
does it, but the general cultural style is influenced by
some people doing it.
Cool is the way of describing from certain exterior
viewpoints what registers as loneliness from the
Like youth, heroin is best understood in retrospect:
from within the experience, you cannot see it for
what it is.
Marlowe's intelligence is charming, which is a good thing, since she seems to regard charm per se as a threat to integrity. She goes out of her way to demonstrate how unkind and unpleasant she can be, and she is generous with her contempt: Her parents were oddballs, her boyfriends were assholes, the friends of her drug days were losers. And only seven pages before the end she makes what I think is a serious tactical error: In the midst of discussing the events that led up to her kicking, she mentions that "because I'd made $150,000 in the first few months of the year, about what I normally made in a full year, I wasn't working very hard."
A hundred and fifty grand? Annually? This isn't a surprise, exactly -- she's already talked about attending Harvard Business School and working as a financial analyst at a New York investment bank. (A description of the requisite charcoal-gray and black business uniform affords her the opportunity for a great line about "the late Goya splendor of the 8 o'clock Monday morning meeting.") Still, this nugget of information, coming after many pages of recollection about the East Village dives she hung out in and the junkie rockers she slummed with, doesn't make her any more sympathetic. A seven-year heroin habit, you realize, isn't the only chasm that stretches between her and her readers. Not that her income makes any moral difference, or any difference to the excellence of this book -- and it is excellent. But I was glad that I was reading about Ann Marlowe's life, rather than sitting across the table from her and listening to her tell me about it.
Her account, an alphabet of use and need from abstention to youth,
is one of the most ruthless little books published in recent memory, dope
addled or not.
This lexicon of meditations is designed to conjure the eternal present of a
life structured around the various observances of heroin use. Marlowe
applies admirable rigor to contemplating the drug's role in her disparate
existences as a Wall Street analyst and a Village Voice rock critic during
her seven-year stint as a user. Especially provocative are the parallels
she draws between drug use and consumer society, and her refusal to accept
the commonplace model of addiction as an illness. Ultimately, though, it's
the stories she relates about her discovery of disturbing family secrets and
her relationships with a series of self-destructive bohemians that are most
Within this book's topical segments, which are alphabetically arranged (e.g., "digital," "doll house," "dope fiend"), New York writer/critic Marlowe fluently describes her dope-addicted years. A "dully painful" childhood; her father's incurable, debilitating illness; her need to transcend gender and cultural conventions; her pervasive dread of an uncontrollable life; the drug scene in the 1980s; and her fascination with rock music all converged to enable a life structured around heroin use. "Dope," she says, "was a home, a psychic space...providing a predictable comfort and security." Now, heroin free, she brings her current insights to bear on those times, exploring what the experiences meant and their relevance to her present life. An articulate and eloquently written work, this is highly recommended for what should be an interested general readership.--Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Marlowe weaves personal history with aphorisms and analysis to explore her own and society's obsession with heroin. She delves beneath the surface of addiction and the familiar cliches, offering many insights into the nature of nostalgia, and the craving for predictable experience on the one hand and the excitement of danger on the other. The tale is told through snapshots of her life and relationships. The author is a writer and critic who has written on music, books, and culture for the , , , and . Lacks a subject index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
How to Stop Time, is the definitive guide to New York's last great drug-fueled subculture.
New York writer/critic Marlowe crafts a memoir of her years among the East Village heroin demimonde in the provocative format of an alphabetized guide to this darkly indulgent world. The narrative is broken down into brief passages, in which tales of a pallid, ominous suburban childhood alternate with edgier evocations of the "dope life" in lower Manhattan during the halcyon pre-Giuliani days. The best of these passages, surprisingly, are the most abstract (likely rooted in Marlowe's philosophy studies at Harvard). Elsewhere, one finds trenchant, unexpected observations on drug-use ramifications: her early equating of addiction with nostalgia, for example, or of the jealous "love triangle" among a junkie, a straight, and the drug. Marlowe never passes up a chance to remind us how not just cool but epochal she is: we learn in great depth how, years before grunge hit, she rocked out wearing Gaultier to the hippest junkie-filled clubs in the East Village, which are all gone now, and pursued "sexual adventure" with men "who had not even a foot in the straight world." Marlowe's emphasis on her insider-ish privilegewhich is an elaborate, underlying theme in the book, despite occasional populist stabsis nowhere near as effective as a stance divorced from this essentially elitist component of the drug milieu might have been. It makes a serious book harder to take seriously. Although she returns to her other characters periodically, sketching the contours of her "dope circle," both the fragmented nature of their depiction, and the fact that they also are moneyed, attractive geniuses makes these portrayals less than affecting. That said, there's a sense of brightly lit truthhere that surpasses Marlowe's fondness for high-end brand names. One is left marveling at the depth of her heroin-related observations, and sharing in her apparent sadness for the years and potential which she and her friends sacrificed to the shared glamour of their habits.