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"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. . ."
". . .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
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
Boy is, frankly, a stunning
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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