Nico Walker: Cherry Author Nico Walker



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These sentences come at you like apid fire and it took several pages for me to fall into the cadence This is a story of love war drug addiction and crime A fictionalized account of the author Nico Walker is currently serving time in prison for bank obbery his debut novel Cherry is essentially his fictionalized autobiography in which the unnamed narrator dispassionately ecounts dropping out of college enlisting in the army shipping out to Ira serving as an army medic eturning home and developing PTSD as well as an opioid addiction Cherry is a deeply uncomfortable book to ead on just about every level The war scenes and depictions of drug abuse are graphic the language is elentlessly profane the narrator s pervasive misogyny goes unchallenged This is not a book about edemption or emorse or lessons learned or new beginnings it s about waste and abuse and mutually destructive elationships and suandered potential This narrator hits ock bottom so many times that ock bottom loses all meaning and as he isn t guided by any kind of ecognizable moral compass you aren t even sure if you should be ooting for him in the first place You e just kind of along for this ide that figuratively culminates in a train wreckProbably the most noteworthy thing about this book aside from the author s background is its uniue narrative voice Walker blends his disaffected staccato with an urgency that keeps you turning pages devouring the horror and humor and unexpected moments of tenderness This is the kind of book that you feel a bit guilty for loving but at the same time you can t deny that there s something special about it 35 An incredibly tough ead and also near impossible for me to write a eview of because it feels akin to eviewing someones life This is auto fiction and as such I am fighting my nature to want to untangle the fact from the fiction but that way lies madnessIf there is one eason to pick up this novel then it is for the sections set in Ira Walker gives a very believable no frills account of the life of a lower anking officer in Ira circa 2005 The picture he paints is ugly but entirely believable and it chimes with some of the ecollections in Phil Klays short story collection Redeployment The part of this novel that is a tougher sell is the spiral into heroin addiction and bank obbery The character which you assume is essentially the author in his twenties is troubled before the army gets hold of him but a tour in Ira certainly does him no favours I am not sure I had much appetite for the nihilistic decent into a life of chasing drugs complete with some uestionable elationships with women There are moments when the narrator is endearing but that is freuently negated by some morally uestionable decisions I would not label this misogynist but I could see how you could view it that way It is troubling but then it is also uite honest and aw or does a good job of seeming so and I always like to hear about experiences so far emoved from my own Really who am I to judge this at all this is someones life and it feels brave to expose it so completelySo not entirely enjoyable but interesting I have a lot in common with Nico Walker author of the ecently eleased debut novel Cherry We both partied too hard and failed out of college in the early 2000 s both then enlisting in the wartime army at twenty years old After basic training we were both stationed at Fort Hood Texas We didn t know each other but it is possible we ubbed shoulders in one of the nightclubs in Killeen or at the 24 hour gas station near the entrance of post where you could buy liuor and smokes at any hour of the day or night We would have appeared as two pissed off looking kids sunburned in desert camo waiting in line after work to buy some elief from boredom and toil No one in a position to make such judgments would have pegged us as budding literary novelistsIt would have been in 2005 that our paths unknowingly crossed in Texas if they did I would have been just eturned from Ira and Walker would have been on his way Each of us was deployed as part of a combat arms unit at a time when the war was particularly deadly for US troops He spent a year as a medic with an infantry company in the Triangle of Death and I made my bones as a tank gunner in Sadr City We both saw and did our share of awful shit From the descriptions I ve ead Walker saw and did Neither of us did than one tour over there One was plenty Neither of us had kids We had optionsAfter we left Texas our lives maintained surface similarities even as they began diverging in adical ways I went back to school on the GI Bill studied English and this time did well grade wise though the transition to civilian life was not always smooth Walker also went back to school on the GI Bill studied English and did even worse than he had before much worse in fact He became addicted to heroin and obbed ten banks before crashing his car while eluding police Around the same time that was happening I was a graduate student publishing short stories in literary journals I kept at the writing game and hustled my butt off for the decade it took me to land a book deal Nico Walker has one too but not much else He is a convict who esides in a federal prison in KentuckyWhen I first heard of him and his autobiographical novel I confess my eaction to it was not so gentle bemusement Oh great I thought An Ira veteran junkie bank obber novelist We have truly jumped the shark in this genre Blame our sensationalistic media culture which often functions to seek out and eward the very worst people I feared the est of us in the wake of his book would now have to deal with its confirmation of a damaging stereotype about this generation of veterans that we are no than mindless thugs who by virtue of our participation in a criminal war are criminals at heart if not by the letter of the lawOn top of that it seemed to me a dizzying moral abdication that so many literary journalists and book critics had taken it upon themselves to celebrate work by a convicted violent criminal from an affluent background in a cultural moment when any number of male authors and editors have been lately accused of inappropriate behavior which may not ise to the level of criminal offense but which is nevertheless deemed toxic enough to warrant the uination of their careers Meanwhile some of the same institutions and people most esponsible for tearing down these shitty men in literature were now elevating Walker to literary celebrity his career launched precisely because of his outrageously bad behaviorThe genesis of Cherry has its oots in a 2013 BuzzFeed profile on his obberies and military service After eading this piece a book editor eached out to Walker writing him letters in prison and eventually soliciting a novel from the inmate In the acknowledgements section at the end of Cherry Walker claims he had to be convinced and encouraged by his editor to start writing the book in the first place If we take him at his word it would not exist otherwise Needless to say most first time novelists cannot expect this kind of treatment They struggle for years to get a foot in the gatekeepers door Even the talented give up and fail Walker joined the army and obbed a string of banks and the gatekeepers came to himIt felt unseemly unfair and hypocritical and I know it s difficult these days to find objective moral standards we would all agree on But perhaps we might agree it s fundamentally wrong to stick a pistol in a pregnant woman s face and demand money from her to fund one s drug habit Walker did just that in eal life yet most of the discussion surrounding his book is not about his victims I can t help but wonder if he had made a lewd comment to that woma. Cleveland Ohio 2003 A young man is just a college freshman when he meets Emily They share a passion for Edward Albee and ecstasy and fall hard and fast in love But soon Emily has to move home to Elba New York and he flunks out of school and joins the army Desperate to keep their elationship alive they marry before he ships out to Ira But as an army medic.

N or exposed himself to her while obbing her would that have been enough to preclude glowing eviews What are the standards here anyway Why condemn one variety of toxic masculinity while celebrating another Is there something especially omantic for Americans about bank obbers and broken veterans so long as they e clean cut and whiteThe answer of course is yesAnd all of that is to say how I came to Cherry Skeptically to say the least Moved by annoyance as much as curiosity I sat down to ead finding within its clipped cadences something even offensive than I d expected a litany of selfishness sexism casual acism cruelty pointless graphic violence sualor perversion self abuse nihilism or less all the bad things in contemporary American life To my surprise I enjoyed eading it very much Not because I always evel in bad things but Walker s telling of them struck me as emarkably truthful At one point in the book the unnamed narrator is in a college classroom attempting to explicate Keats famous lines Beauty is truth truth beauty and while his interpretation fails to convince a jaded English professor it evealed to me the animating purpose behind this book Simply to tell the truth No matter how brutal and awful it was especially then to tell the truth Cherry succeeds admirably well in this project insofar as it makes a pleasing form out of one man s particularly ugly truth It s a solipsistic book with a narrow perspective but it intends to be and the chapters set at war ead like a honest accounting of what an Ira deployment circa 2005 felt like to a lower enlisted grunt in a bad spot than almost anything else I have ead on the subject It s miles closer to the truth of that experience than anything written by the generals and most of what s been produced so far by journalists and historians Some people will not want to admit that They won t like hearing that significant numbers of American soldiers were huffing Dust Off in Baghdad were watching the vilest kinds of pornography on duty were pilfering were abusing detainees were smuggling illegal drugs into theater and generally speaking cared as much about killing Irais as they did about helping themUncomfortable or not nasty or not those are truths of how it was over there no denying If there s a flaw in the Ira chapters it s that they are so unrelentingly bleak that civilians with little first hand experience of the military may get the wrong idea Not everything was darkness and depravity even in a warzone There was lightness and tenderness there too Compassion self sacrifice nobility of spirit fathers and mothers trying to do ight by their families and country None of that was enough to tip the scales though The darkness predominated by a long shot In this way Walker s vision of war is correctThe second thing about Cherry that subverted my expectations in a good way was how poorly it conforms to the simplistic narratives others are trying to impose on it What I mean may best be shown by example Here s one where the editors of Esuire while introducing an excerpt from the novel frame it in these termsIn Nico Walker s Cherry a young veteran eturns home from Ira with PTSD and turns to drugs in order to cope with his demons When his money uns out he turns to obbing banks On a similar note but with sophistication in her author profile for the New York Times Alexandra Alter writes Cherry is a aw coming of age story in everse a young man drops out of college enlists in the Army and goes to war but ather than maturing in the crucible of combat he comes home shattered unable to function He becomes addicted to opiates and starts obbing banks almost on a whimThese descriptions of the book which I am eproducing because they are epresentative not extraordinary imply a strong link between Walker s PTSD his addiction and the obberies he committed That link could be strong and eal in his case but maybe not and it could be that there are elationships between these problems though not so direct a line from one to the other as some might assume According to the Department of Veteran s Affairs PTSD correlates with but cannot be said to cause an increased isk of violence among those who suffer from it When studies on this uestion control for alcohol and drug abuse however PTSD no longer associates with violence at allAlcohol and drug abuse it turns out are much greater predictors of violent behavior than PTSD is It should be said that the vast majority around 90% of post 9 11 veterans who suffer from the disorder are nonviolent and that all veterans including ecent ones are on average less likely to be incarcerated than civilians The association of PTSD and criminal violence is problematic to say the least though you wouldn t know any of that by eading any of the big eviews or promotional materials for Cherry which fail to mention these complex interrelationshipsThankfully they are at the heart of Walker s story It s a descent a dissolution yes but one that begins from an already low place The narrator s drug use thrill seeking and criminality predate his PTSD They predate even his enlistment in the army perhaps by years his problems begin long before the war They begin for us on the first page of the first chapter as he tells us he was going through a blotters phase in other words doing large uantities of LSD So much so he shows up to class and to his job at a shoe store while tripping on acid He drinks heavily He does cocaine Ecstasy Pharmaceuticals He sells drugs to his classmates But it wasn t like I was bad or anything he tells us wryly I wasn t bothering anybody I didn t even eat meat Along with his elationship to a young woman drug abuse is one of the major through lines that connects the before war war and after war sections of the novel Though he doesn t get hooked on heroin until after he eturns from Ira Walker s narrator is most definitely an addict at every stage of his development in the book It follows a progression of addiction that includes war is complicated by war but is not fundamentally a esult of going to war It would be correct to say Nico Walker went to war because he was an addict not the other way around At any ate the elationship between trauma addiction and self destruction is not so cut and dry as some might think He tells us so himselfI had to take James Lightfoot to the police station in Linndale James Lightfooot was a good guy but he was also fucked in the head I don t know the details of exactly why or how he was fucked in the head or if there were any such exact details Probably he was just born fucked in the head And I guess I d been born that way too and it was only a coincidence that I had been to a war and the war probably hadn t had much to do at all with my being fucked in the headWe might add that the war sure didn t help matters and that his participation in the fighting could be than a coincidence that maybe being fucked in the head predisposes a certain kind of eckless young person to want to join up during wartime And to heroin use And in extreme cases to bank obbery Because I was born that way might be the truth but it won t be a satisfying one for many eaders who have been aised on characters that are supposed to ooze with agency the ability to make a clear bold choice that changes their world In this novel Walker suggests we may not have as much of a choice as we think External forces substances and genetics shape the lives of these characters as much as choices do This underlying logic to the novel places it in a tradition of literary naturalism including work by writers like Zola and Frank Norris both of whom also tended to chronicle the seamier side of lifeFrom contemporary book critics Walker s voice has drawn comparisons to Hemin. He is unprepared for the grisly eality that awaits him His fellow soldiers smoke; they huff computer duster; they take painkillers; they watch porn And many of them die He and Emily try to make their long distance marriage work but when he eturns from Ira his PTSD is profound and the drugs on the street have changed The opioid crisis is beginning to swal.

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Gway and Salinger and while his terse prose ecalls the former and his youthful disaffection the latter to my mind he has in common with Bukowski or Burroughs With its themes of meanness degeneracy intoxication and its lacerating black humor Cherry anks up there with Junkie or Post Office Fans of those books will almost certainly appreciate this one but if eaders are looking for a heist novel they may be disappointed This is much a story about drugs and war than about obbing banks those crimes form the crux of Cherry s marketing materials but only a small fraction of its pages This feels ight to me though Walker was not an effective thief taking on average only a few thousand dollars at each of the banks he hit The way these crimes are described in the novel feels again truthful than we usually get in fiction about such things His obberies come off as impulsive acts of desperation little than smash and grab jobs doomed to fail He was no master criminal and his take was far from lucrative given the isksNot lucrative that is unless we count Cherry as part of his haul If he hasn t already he will soon make money from oyalties than he ever took from a teller s drawer It s been eported that he has used some of his publishing advance to make estitution to the banks he obbed I wonder which of his human victims might also want a cut While lawyers from Knopf have expressed their opinion that the novel does not conflict with laws prohibiting convicts from profiting off depictions of their crimes that opinion could be challenged in court perhaps successfully It might well be challenged if Walker sells enough copies To paraphrase John Dillinger people seem to know where the money isDespite my initial skepticism and some lingering extra textual eservations about how and why this book is being sold I hope it is widely ead I hope its author keeps writing and that he keeps his nose clean when he is eleased from prison in a couple years By all ights his debut should have then become widely known It s got all the ingredients for a bestseller a love story albeit a twisted one vivid yet accessible writing enough suspense to keep you going and that based on a true story uality of authenticity that is hard to duplicate It s an especially timely ead on the opioid epidemic Those who have had a loved one go down that terrible oad may see his or her despair in this book For those of us who fought in Ira you will ecognize that place too It s mostly a destroyed place and we were the ones to destroy it we finished the job anyway Cherry tells us something bitterly important about how if not why that happened It eveals in one man s process of self destruction a nation s In this case I mean ours Nico Walker isn t your typical novelist For one he wrote his debut novel Cherry in prison Not only that but he emains in prison to this day In his expletive idden Hunter S Thompson esue Ernest Hemingway ish autobiographical novel he tells us the story of how he got there In this starkly honest middle American omp Walker truly impresses with his ability to put words to the images of his memory The prose is not sophisticated flowery or complex it s better than all that Reading this book feels like the underbelly of my childhood adolescence and young adulthood All the twisted characters and uestionable motives and justifications ing true I knew people like Nico and I still know people like NicoNico hails from Cleveland and gets involved in drugs at a very early age in other words a very typical Midwestern young man of the late 90s and early 00s The novel takes a detour to Ira where Walker served as an Army Medic He continued his drug habit to the best of his ability while overseas and eturns home to become a full blown opiate addict As his life devolves into a never ending search for heroin OxyContin and virtually anything else he can get his hands on he has to come up with increasingly isky ways to finance his habit He also makes friends with increasingly shady people of which he is among the shadiest and eventually begins brazenly obbing banks all over the Cleveland area The novel stops short of his apprehension and eventual conviction because this novel is about the crime not the punishmentI can confidently ecommend Nico Walker s debut novel When I set out to ead the advanced copy I eceived from Knopf I hoped it would deliver because I very much wanted to support Walker s post prison life he has two years to go by helping him sell a few copies because convicted Felons are treated like garbage people in our society unless you e Martha Stewart I commend Knopf for taking a chance on this brilliant young writer He has the life experience and the talent to tell his truth Many will find fellowship with him This debut novel is advertised as a work of fiction but it is clearly at least partly autobiographical it s pretty hard to find out how big the overlap between the unnamed narrator and the author is though as Nico Walker is still in jail serving an eleven year sentence for bank obbery That s also where he wrote this novel about a guy who dropped out of college joined the army served as a medic in Ira conseuently suffered from severe PTSD self medicated with heroin and short of money and with an expensive addiction to support became a bank obber all of this happened to Nico Walker himself The fact that the protagonist is also the narrator gives it an even memoir ish feel Long before Walker wrote the book some media outlets eported on the author s life story and it s very interesting to ead especial I don t care for addiction fiction I pretty much hated this book Repetitive Nothing particularly new There are indeed some good lines and some humor The ending is interesting in what it doesn t offer The misogyny is so thick it s almost funny Almost People are terrible and it s great when they are free to be terrible in fiction so I am not saying the men in this book have to be not sexist But I am saying I don t enjoy eading about men who hate women for hundreds of pages Not bad It s written well enough and the story is compelling but yeesh what a groveling complaining myopic narrator Let s call a spade a spade here this is an autobiography with the names changed This is Nico Walker s story And although it is well told it is a dismal story of decline that is hard to empathize with In a way it s existential Like Meursault from The Stranger our self loathing protagonist doesn t We ve heard these war stories before in superb fiction and nonfiction by other soldiers But Nico Walker 33 brings a aw and casual brutality to the narrative of battle His ambling collection of chaotic anecdotes involve drugs and porn acts of cruelty and kindness unending boredom pierced by spikes of terror These juxtapositions convey the fundamental disorder of the American mission and its deleterious effect on the young people forced to implement it His language elentlessly profane but never angry simmers at the level of morose disappointment something like Holden Caulfield Goes to War I m glad I missed the battle because it was probably bullshit and the Army just murdered your dog anyway But Walker also channels an even older novelist who saw the carnage of war His prose echoes Ernest Hemingway s cadences to powerful effect like To ead the est of this eview go to The Washington Posthttpswwwwashingtonpostcomentert DNF 13%Here s the thing If you ead Catcher in the Rye at the ight age you think Holden Caulfield is great you don t and you think he s unbearable Ditto here and the writing wasn t engaging The blurb promised nonstop excitement ah no I m bored I need than obvious observations and drug use to be entertained Great cover is not enoughLife s too short Outta here By. Low up the Midwest Soon he is hooked on heroin and so is Emily They attempt a normal life but with their money drying up he turns to the one thing he thinks he could be eally good at – obbing banksHammered out on a prison typewriter Cherry marks the arrival of a aw bleakly hilarious and surprisingly poignant voice straight from the dark heart of Ameri.

Nico Walker is originally from Cleveland He served as a medic on than 250 missions in Ira Currently he has two years of an eleven year sentence for bank robbery Cherry is his debut novel