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Shane Levene is a writer, artist, musician, poet. He is, some might argue, a better poet than a musician, a better artist than a poet and a better writer than an artist. However, the role that Shane Levene inhabits most fully is, undoubtedly, that of a semi-functional heroin addict.
The entries in Levene’s blog, “Memoires of a Heroinhead,” are not all about the drug. To be sure, the author often evokes a typical, if uncompromisingly realistic “Trainspotting”-esque literary snapshot– a low-rent French apartment, whitewashed walls decorated with grotesque patterns of dried blood, a man-sized receptacle for used syringes and burnt papers– but he writes about other things too: a future and a past without heroin.
The loosely organized memories, such as they may be, brings forth the most haunting pictures of the author’s life as it is, as it was and, occasionally, as it might be. The son of working class, northern English addicts– one of whom was butchered by notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen– Levene’s childhood appears to have been almost entirely misspent. Stories of teenage youths dressing up in drag to visit Glam clubs in Soho pepper the blog’s homepage, living side by side with recounted memories of domestic abuse, murder and soul-crushing poverty.
A consummate story teller, Levene is at times brutal and jarring, at others wistful and romantic. The kind of autobiographical self-reflection, typical to the memoir genre, that usually adulterates the graphic immediacy of the narrator’s experiences, is noticeably lacking in these vignettes. Granted, some posts are significantly better than others; Levene’s writing is inconsistent and occasionally contrived. But, particularly in the case of Levene’s most recent offerings, oftentimes they are vividly beautiful and utterly beguiling. Not to mention very, very sad.
In one particularly upsetting post, the raconteur relates how some of his closest friends deliberately attempted to infect him with HIV through shared needles. In another account, Levene poignantly describes an incident in which he overhears a young girl being beaten to death in the apartment above his, but is unable to call the police for fear of them discovering his drug paraphernalia.
The rest of the blog, the parts that aren’t directly about the drugs, is filtered through the creative lens of someone who, honestly and truly, has come to terms with the fact that they are going to die– not in 30 years, but maybe next year, next month, next week, today.
Levene’s portrait of his life as an addict is bleak, his experiences routinely horrific and far removed from the world of the non-junky. Just like Christiane F. before him, Levene faithfully chronicles some of the most harrowing physical and mental consequences of his addiction.
Levene writes, “I choose the needle. We must live and die by our swords. We cannot blame our enemy for us taking up arms. That is a bitter and all consuming road to take.”
It is this stark perspective that defines Levene’s literary persona in his memoirs. Essentially, on the page, a heroin addict is who Levene is, and, as things stand, it appears that Levene’s addiction is also inherent to all he can be. Indeed, as another literary heroinhead, William S. Burroughs once wrote: “Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.”