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Original City Lights cover




---The New York Times, 
September 1995

"In vivid sensory imagery [and] clipped, rhythmic storytelling. . . Veltri leads his narrator, Gregory, through scenes of jail and rehab and scrounging for junk, juxtaposed with cozy images of his home life. Together they capture that moment when middle-class drug use lost its innocence. . . cool and indelibly individual. . ." 

---Publishers Weekly, 
June 1995

". . .this startling debut is a highly personal and localized account of life as a junkie. What is so extraordinary about the life of narrator Gregory is not that it is unusual, but that it is so very typical. He unflinchingly chronicles his development from recreational drug user ("Somewhere around the middle of the sixties, when I was a flowering adolescent, drugs were good. Like fun.") to hard-core junkie ("Shooting drugs is more economical than sniffing drugs. Only need about half as much. Less wasted. Faster acting.") Although Gregory eventually goes into recovery, this is no morality tale, just straightforward, jittery exposition, which in a twelve-step world works remarkably well. 



---  Eric Miles Williamson,  American Book Review, February 1996

"It's a story we've heard before: "I was a young junkie" (alcoholic, skinhead, pervert, lesbian, Wall Street killer, homosexual lawyer, glue-sniffer, whatever - you choose).  "I abused myself, my family, my friends, and the society at large.  I went to rehabs a few times, finally a rehab worked, and then I got better, and now I'm telling you my story."

            We may have heard the story before, but we haven't heard it the way George Veltri tells it in his debut novel, Nice Boy.  Though the novel's story is the same one we hear daily on the talk shows, Nice Boy not only manipulates the oft-told story into an original work, but does so with surpassing excellence.  Nice Boy is, frankly, a stunning book.

            I didn't want to like it.  The story itself, the contemporary redemption from the Naughties, is one I usually find contemptible, because it is one that is usually nothing more than a flimsy excuse for narrative narcissism or autobiographical self-help.  But Mr. Veltri handles the stereotype so well, so skillfully, with so much energy and wisdom and talent, that the book soars above genre and into the realm of literature.

            Nice Boy spares the reader the deliberately psychotic babblings of Burroughs, the overblown analysis of DeQuincey, the self-pity and tidiness and stylized ennui of Raymond Carver's scotch-sweating booze-hounds.  It does not romanticize the high of heroin, nor does it turn being loaded into some kind of metaphysical karmic life-is-so-cosmic pseudo-religious advertisement: instead, what Mr. Veltri delivers is a gritty, dazed, crumbling subway mosaic of a New York junkie whose dope chase has come to an end.  No sentimentality, no ad miseracordium please, no angelic transformations - no!  Just a Queens boy from a normal family who is crazed for junk and who gets over it.  Veltri eschews the romanticized hyperbole of the sensationalists in favor of bare and stark realism and the truth of an honest voice.  Read Nice Boy and you'll be able to spot the junkies - and they don't look like prophets, like angel-headed hipsters: they look like shit.

            In addition to his stark and true detailing of the Queens and Brooklyn landscape and the hypodermic terrain of the junkie, Mr. Veltri's deft handling of dialect is refreshing.  He does not fall into the trap of phonetic preproduction of speech patterns, relying instead on the specific diction and syntactical patterns, avoiding the offenses of writers such as Kate Chopin and Stephen Crane. . . so convincingly faultless is the dialect (I ride the Q-train to Brighton Beach every day) that the writer "George Veltri" becomes absent and his narrator, Gregory, is the only discernible teller of the tale. 

            The book is funny as well, not begging for laughs like a clever panhandling hobo, not debasing itself for a court jesterly laugh in the tedious fashions of T. Boyle and Francine Prose and McInerny.  The humor of the novel comes from the sadness and honesty of the story and its narrator.  As it does in the work of Barry Hannah, Donald Barthelme, and John Hawkes, the humor of Mr. Veltri comes from an acute understanding of the inherent melancholy, irony and absurdity of the human condition. 

            Nice Boy may seem a book that lacks a larger scope, lacks a metaphor, lacks the synecdoctal implications of many works of what we would call high literature.  Heroine is not to Nice Boy what money is to JR.  However, to the book's credit, because of its very lack of overt and grandiose metaphor, the book reads more true and more real because of the deliberate claustrophobic context of the myopic world of the junkie.  Delivery and subject matter fuse into a coherent and honest portrayal of the world of the novel.  No didacticism - on of the traits of such books - no literary song and dance, no social harangues.  When we read a book that starts off with junkies shooting up heroin, we have certain expectations, and these are because of the growing tradition of such books in America.  When Mr. Veltri's narrator ends up in a rehab in New York, instead of finding the usual didacticism of today's confessional novels, the sappy realizations of watered-down and petty Americanized Joycean epiphanies turned kitsch, we get a detached and brief tenure in the rehab followed by the novels astounding final vignettes. 

            The book is wholly literary, fully realized, and executed with the confidence and poise and exactitude of a fine writer who knows how to handle voice, structure, plot, and the development of character.  Mr. Veltri doesn't need a huge governing metaphor: he's not writing 'U.S.A.' he's writing one character's personal story.

            Nice Boy is a book which transforms societal cliche into a work of Art.  It is decidedly a book beyond dogma, a muted success story of the first order. 

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