Nina-Marie Gardner’s debut novel is a riveting read. Mary Cartwright has just finished her graduate studies and taken a position helping students re-write their college essays to improve their chances for admission into top universities. Mary is in a very fragile place after the death of her father, distance in her relationship with her mother, and a tenuous sobriety which has long slipped away but for her hiding it from her family. It’s under such inauspicious timing, while living in London, that Mary starts up a correspondence with a dreamy poet, but from the very beginning things are far from how they appear.
Gardner’s writing is ridiculously addictive, and though I only picked it up to skim a few pages for a small preview, I was hard-pressed to put it aside to finish what I had been originally reading. Sherry & Narcotics is an incredibly fidgety and angsty story that delves so completely into the life and the mind of an addict that if you’re not careful, you will slowly drift from watching the train wreck to being in a seat on the train. It sucks you into the interior life of the main character. I really wanted her to have what she wanted out of life and for her to get her happy ending, even though I could very clearly see that what she wanted was probably not the best thing for her (or anyone else for that matter!), but such was the case with Mary, and her tortured and doomed love affair with silver-tongued poet, Jake Potter.
Gardner excels at capturing the details of hard struggle with a drinking problem- the careful rationing to which Mary can never adhere, the compromises which are then compromised- but the brilliance of the novel reveals itself in the way she reveals minute nuances of emotion. Even if you’re not a raging alcoholic, you’ve probably been in love, or loved the wrong guy, or tried to break a bad habit, or had some regrets. The pitch perfect illustration of these emotions and the immediacy of the language makes this not only a visceral read, but a compelling one. Neither Mary or her circumstances fall into the category of being easily forgotten. Highly Recommended.