Chancers: Addiction, Prison, Recovery, Love: One Couple’s Memoir, by Susan Stellin and Graham Macindoe****

ChancersI decided to read and review this title because I anticipated that it would be, by and large, a depiction and critique of the American prison system and Homeland Security. As it happens, that is really only a small part of this memoir, which focuses more on the couple’s relationship and the way that addiction warps and undermines trust and affection. Nevertheless, I found it really compelling, and so thank you Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the opportunity to read and review free and ahead of the public in exchange for this honest review. The memoir will be available to the public June 7, 2016.
Susan met Graham at a beach getaway where they were two of the people sharing a large house over the course of a vacation. Later, when she needed an author photo done for a book she had written, she remembered that he was a photographer that had worked for the Guardian, and she called him to see if he was interested.
That’s when everything began.
The memoir was originally going to be Susan’s alone, but eventually it occurred to her that Graham could contribute a lot in sharing his experiences with addiction and the point of view from which he saw the world when he was in that condition.
Imagine using heroin because it is easier to hide than alcoholism. From the frying pan into the fire! And hide it he did through the first stages of their relationship. He did romance like nobody’s business and she tried to remain objective, but there’s nothing all that objective about falling in love. And so although he made some highly questionable decisions, it took her awhile to find out about the heroin, which he had told her was behind him. But the heroin wasn’t behind him, and neither was the crack. And before she knows it, she is drawn partially down his rabbit hole while keeping one foot in that of mainstream journalism. It’s a strange place to be.
This reviewer has never minced words about my dislike for cops in general and the punitive, demoralizing, racist, class-based system that is the so-called American Justice System; yet Macindoe didn’t earn much sympathy from me. His narrative is in turns puling, angry with no justification, whiny and full of self pity, up until the end when he has finally shucked the monkey from his back as he reaches his golden years.
Macindoe had climbed from his early impoverished years as a child of a Scottish miner to the middle class world of photo-journalism. He was in the USA by preference and because his son from an earlier marriage was here; thus it was hard to feel the kind of solidarity with him that automatically comes to me regarding Third World citizens that are in the US as the only means by which they can feed their families. He owned a brownstone in New York City and had published photos internationally, garnering praise and a certain level of renown. And so…seriously? Heroin?
It was Stellin that kept me turning the pages. Every time she decided to step back from the relationship I wanted to yank her into the nearest lady’s room and tell her one woman to another to lose this guy entirely. Even her former husband, now in a gay relationship, advised her to “cut bait”. And every time she decided she could offer him some assistance even though they were no longer romantically involved, every time she wondered what their relationship could be like if only he were off the smack, I wanted to howl. After all, the relationship might be interesting if one of them grew a second head or a third eye in the middle of the forehead, but what were the chances?
“Chancers” turns out to be a Scottish expression, and I will leave the reader to find out what it means.
I found this story had an addictive quality of its own, a romantic drama not unlike the soap operas that were the only adult voices I heard most days when I was a stay-at-home mother in the 1980’s. Graham was full of shit, I figured, but I still had to know what happened next.
In the course of hearing Susan and Graham’s story, I did learn a number of things about Homeland Security that I had not known before. Imagine feeling nostalgic for Riker’s Island because it was so much more compassionate than the one for potential deportees!
And so I have to say this is a good read, an ideal book to take on vacation and flop on the beach with; just don’t get so absorbed that you scorch your tender skin, because it’s mighty distracting regardless of what is happening around you.
Fascinating and recommended to those that like compelling memoirs or are interested in addiction issues and the US penal system.

Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security, by Robert Guffey****

 

ChameleoastrangeChameleo is a twisted but true story of an addict who unwittingly becomes an experimental subject in a classified government research program, and the bizarre events that took place then and in the aftermath. My thanks go to the author, who provided me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Dion Fuller (not the person’s actual name) had been released from a psychiatric hospital in Southern California. He had procured some heroine and nodded off, permitting various equally marginal characters access to his home. Sometimes he was out of it and had no idea what was happening. It was likely during this time that the guy with the stolen classified documents and a couple dozen pairs of night-vision goggles belonging to the US government made his way into Dion’s apartment. The ensuing chaos proves once and for all that just because a person is crazy does not mean nobody is out to get them. Just ask Dion!

Guffey, the author, is a Cal State creative writing teacher who found himself involved in Dion’s situation. He had a free term at the same time that Dion, an old childhood friend, called for help. With a certain amount of necessary remove, he did his best to advise his friend while taking copious notes. Soon he became convinced that his old friend was not hallucinating.

“Imagine a ridiculous college fraternity with the resources of the entire black budget of the United States of America deciding to play one long prank on some faceless guy in San Diego. And imagine that the faceless guy is you.”

The author’s description of a malicious antic known as “Street Theater” in government circles reminded me of the dirty tricks that the Democratic Party played on the Nixon camp during the early 1960’s—cruising into town in advance, for example, and moving street signs around so that the Republicans would get lost and be late to a speaking engagement—which were later used in turn by Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President in 1972. Dion hoped that leaving his home, which was located very near a Naval installation, would make it all stop, and it did. He left California and headed cross country, but every time he got close to a US military installation, a whole train of personnel would follow him once more, like a trail of ducklings after their mother, right out there in the middle of the freaking desert.

Guffey’s story, which includes the Masons, the Illuminati (note the cover), and assorted other conspiratorial ingredients that would ordinarily cause me to stay completely fucking clear of this whacked out tale, follows Dion as far north as Minnesota, then oh dear God, to Seattle where Guffey was staying. But just as it seems it can’t get any more strange and stressful, the whole thing becomes hilarious! Your humble reviewer sat and laughed out loud about two-thirds of the way into the story, and the lighter tone that marks the book until near the end is what prevents the whole thing from degenerating into a bottomless abyss.
My only quibble with this story—and it’s a small one—is that if we must read entire transcribed passages of conversations, then the persons involved in the conversation in question should all be named, with no pseudonyms involved, so that the reader can use that transcript as a primary document if they want or need to. If that can’t happen, then some of these conversations ought to be summarized or paraphrased, at least in places. But this shouldn’t keep you from getting a copy of this memoir and reading it.

In fact, those that question authority and wonder just how far the US government has strayed from its stated ideals will welcome this strange little book, which is just well documented enough to convince me that it’s entirely true.

It’s available for purchase now.

Chasing Ghosts: the Policing of Terrorism, by John Mueller and Mark Stewart***

chasingghostsI suspect just about everyone in the USA, or who frequently has to travel to the USA, is heartily sick of the extreme security measures that raise our taxes through the roof and cause so many delays, inconveniences, and even the confiscation of ordinary products that cost us a fair amount of money, on those occasions that we foolishly forget not to take them with us on the plane. The racial profiling makes it even worse. And so I requested this DRC from Net Galley and Oxford University Press with the expectation that I would agree with it wholeheartedly and immediately form the virtual simpatico with its writers that readers form with their favorite authors. Alas, not so much.

It’s not a terrible book, but it’s also not a great one. The writing style comes across as strangely antagonistic, odd given that I was ready to agree with them when I began the book. They make a lot of good points, particularly in comparing the expenditures of the Federal government to the amount that was spent on the Cold War and the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950’s. But whenever I read scholarly nonfiction, I am inclined to check out the end notes early on, and I was struck by the large number of times Mueller and Stewart quoted themselves (or sometimes one or the other of themselves separately). Their other sources were more likely to be newspapers and magazines rather than primary documents, which were used sparingly.

My sense is that if you’re going to challenge the status quo, you have to roll up your sleeves and do it right. In this case, a worthy thesis, at least to some extent, is less credible than it might have been with more diligent research and more legitimate scholarship.

My gut was inclined to rate this book two stars rather than three, but then I realized that my gut was responding to the ISIS mass killings in France. For the writers, it’s just pure dumb bad luck that the real terrorists created such tremendous outrage and heartfelt sympathy throughout the Western world, and in doing so underscored the reason such stringent security measures are in place, just as their book was nearing publication.

The most compelling argument against the Patriot Act and all of its associated agencies and agents is that when someone is willing to die in order to commit a mass killing, nobody and nothing can really stop them. The security measures being utilized are effective against people that want to enter an establishment or a vehicle and kill as many people in it as possible, then walk away and live to kill more people another day. This wasn’t the primary argument Mueller and Stewart rolled out. Their main argument, that the Bill of Rights is being trampled by the very government that was invented to uphold the Constitution, is a good one and I think would have been easier to get behind had events not unfolded as they did, and of course, had the source material been more impressive; yet the safety of all of us will always preclude individual liberties. So in a sense, ISIS gives the conservative, locked-down wing of the ruling class a red-carpet invitation to clamp down on civil liberty; but that would not have made a book that would sell, and perhaps that is why the authors didn’t make this their focus.

If this is an area of interest to you, you can get a copy November 30. I wouldn’t pay hard cover price for it unless you have tremendous interest and very deep pockets, though.