For Denver author Peter Stenson, addiction fuels art

Listen Now
(Photo: Courtesy of Peter Stenson)
<p>Peter Stenson is sober now but he used to be what he calls a “trashcan addict” who would try anything and everything that was set in front of him. That’s a lot like the characters from Stenson&#039;s novel “Fiend.” </p>

Photo: Best Books 2013 4Peter Stenson is sober now but he used to be what he calls a “trashcan addict” who would try “anything and everything that was set in front of him.”

That’s a lot like the characters in his new novel, "Fiend.” .

After a week-long meth bender, his protagonist, Chase Daniels, peers out the window, and realizes he’s living in the zombie apocalypse.

Zombies become a metaphor for addiction.

Think about it: lifeless bodies shambling towards their next “hit” could describe the walking dead or addicts.

One reviewer wrote, “'Fiend' feels fresh in a stale genre" and is “a masterful illustration of how painful and overwhelming addiction can be.”

Peter Stenson, who lives in Denver, wrote this novel while he was getting an MFA at Colorado State University. He graduated just last year and speaks with Ryan Warner.

Read the opening paragraphs of the book below. [Warning: contains sensitive language.]



8 : 5 4 a m

So Typewriter John and I have spent the last hour lying to

each other, faking concern, panic, and desperation, all the

while helping the other look for the last hit. The thing is, we

each know the other is holding on to an eraser- sized shard. It’s

like a standoff, both of us wanting to be left the fuck alone

for fi ve minutes. Finally Typewriter caves, says he’s going to

take a shit, which I know isn’t true because we haven’t eaten

in close to three days.

I pull out the tiny bit of glass. Burn it. And it’s barely two

hits and I’m spun bad, like from our weeklong bender, but this

one really does it, because when I peek through the G.I. Joe sheets

we’ve draped over the windows, I see a little girl playing

with a dog. I’m thinking this is kind of sweet— this blond

child crouching on all fours, inching closer to the dog, like

maybe she’s playing a game of make- believe where she’s a dog

too. But then I notice the dog is shaking. And it’s a big dog, a

rottweiler, and he’s shaking, his head down, his tail covering

his nuts. What the fuck? I’m about to return back to our cave of a world because the sun is

ungodly bright, but I see the dog take a snap at the

little girl. She dodges him just in time. I think about pounding

on the glass. I need to warn this kid. I need to do something.

But I don’t. I stand there. The little girl creeps back to the dog, and

once she gets close enough to touch it, she does, only her touch

isn’t a pat but a lunge for the rottweiler’s throat. It reminds

me of this time I saw an elderly woman crossing the street,

she almost made it across when a black Hummer turned right

and came straight at her not slowing, and the old woman

looked up in time to see her fate as an extravagant fl aunting

of male testosterone, and she crumpled, lost underneath tons

of metal. The little blond girl rips open the dog’s throat.

I rub my eyes. Blood spouting like Old Faithful. Her white dress now

tie- dyed, swatches of brilliant red on cotton.

I close the G.I. Joe sheets. I sit down. I’m telling myself that it’s gone

too far this time, this latest run, smoking half an ounce of scante, that I

need to chill the fuck out, like KK said. I tell myself that this is it. That I

will leave this house on the outskirts of St. Paul, go find something to eat,

take a handful of Advil PMs, and call it a day. Call it a career in smoking

speed. Never have I experienced such vivid hallucinations. Sure, tracers

and voices and shit like that, but not seeing carnage on this scale. I laugh to

myself. I try to analyze my hallucination— the little girl represents

innocence, and it’s probably signifi cant that she’s blond,

because KK’s blond, and that ties into innocence, because we

were close to that, her and I, at least in the beginning. And

the dog, maybe that’s man’s best friend, maybe it’s the natural

world, maybe primal nature. And the subversion of the

natural order, the child killing the dog, that’s pretty simple—

innocence wins out.

E V E R Y fucking epiphany and realization and coded message

all tell me the same thing: I need to get clean.

I’m rubbing my hair. It’s greasy like a motherfucker. I

smell my breath. It’s like abortions. Then I look around Typewriter’s

house and it’s disgusting, that eerie shade of manufactured

darkness, the sun doing its damnedest against the

strung- up sheets to tell us the world is still going about its

boring- ass business. I’m on the one couch left over from his

mother, the only thing he hasn’t pawned. I hate my life. I

think about Typewriter smoking shit in the bathroom. Maybe

he has more than a shard? I stand up because I could really go

for one last hit, a nightcap.

[Reprinted from FIEND Copyright © 2013 by Peter Stenson. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.]