A delightfully dark read and a must read for all social justice advocates.
Raw. Profane. Straight from a dark heart.
These are only a few ways the back of the book describes Nico Walker’s debut novel, soon to be turned into a major motion that will grace our screens.
If you’re looking for a tragic love story, then this book is not for you. If you’re looking for social commentary about the opioid epidemic in Ohio, then this book is not for you. If you’re looking for a story about redemption, then this book is not for you. Cherry is not about redeeming the protagonist, or even an in-depth analysis on his drug addiction. Instead, this book is about the main character aimlessly going through life.
Cherry documents the unnamed narrator’s journey from the end of high school through the end of one of his bank robberies. At the beginning of his novel, Walker explains that the narrator did not come from a life of privilege nor poverty. In fact, the character’s socio-economic status has nothing to do with his drug addiction nor his life of crime. The narrator came from a loving family, did well in college, and had an active social life. However, the narrator did have complicated relationships with women. His most complicated one was with Emily.
His on-again/off-again relationship with Emily is arguably one of driving forces of the narrator’s addiction. Not only is he addicted to drugs, he’s also addicted to Emily. He robs banks to get money for the “good stuff” that he and Emily can ingest. When she suffers withdrawals, the narrator gets drugs at any means possible to end her suffering. In almost every moment of his life – military training to returning from Iraq – his love for Emily is ever present. Even when he is with other women, there is never a moment where the main character is not thinking about her. When he believes Emily is cheating on him, he will hate her for a brief moment but then instantly love her again. When she hates the flowers he sent her, the protagonist will lose his temper but think about the days where he can lay in bed with her. Despite everything they put each other through, Emily and the narrator always find love in one another.
Throughout the novel, you cannot help but imagine the narrator is Walker. He describes Emily as smart, beautiful and “way too good” for anyone. You cannot help but feel that Walker was once in love with his own Emily. In fact, his description of all the characters comes from a real place for Walker. His descriptions of all the characters is like anyone of us describing a friend that we lost at a party.
“Hey, have you seen my friend? She’s tall, brunette, and wears glasses.” This generic description is how Walker describes almost all the characters in his book. He does not use metaphors or flowerily language. For example, when describing an attractive woman, Walker will write, “she’s hot. Nice tits.” His straight-to-the-point writing is surprisingly refreshing.
Walker’s style of writing is realistic. The book is the narrator’s giant internal monologue. He does not make excuses for the narrator’s behavior nor justify his actions. Walker tells the narrator’s story exactly how it is: realistic. He does not spend time romanticizing the narrator’s relationship with Emily nor does he spend time on the euphoria of taking drugs. Walker’s writing reflects the narrator’s personality throughout the book – aimless. The protagonist is not surprised when his girlfriend cheats on him, nor has any reason to get into routinely drunken fistfights every night. However, the protagonist’s naked sincerity shines through when the book describes the Iraq war.
After 9/11, the narrator feels obligated to join the military. He describes his obligation as “moral antigravity,” by which he means that soldiers are treated like heroes when they engage in horrendous activities such as “killing 40 hajis.” Walker showcases the ugly truth about war while describing the narrator’s time in Iraq. For example, the main character is a medically trained soldier. His job is to basically be a doctor to all those he encounters overseas. However, while on active-duty, he cannot treat anyone’s infections. Instead, he ends up giving everyone Ibuprofen for any of these infections instead of antibiotics. That is how unprepared he felt in Iraq. At one point, the main character is unsure why he’s even in Iraq. He states,
“And they killed a lot of hajis, 40 of the poor motherfuckers. It only took a few minutes. We didn’t do anything but stay in place. We didn’t even hear it. I wouldn’t ever have known about the 40 dead hajis if I hadn’t read about them on Yahoo! News the next morning. I wondered how it was they’d done it…. Anyway, that’s when I figured out we weren’t there to do shit. We’d do for getting fucked-up-or-killed-by-bombs purposes, and everyday-waste-of-your-fucking-time purposes, but no one thought we could do the actual fighting, whatever that was.”
“Cherry” is military slang for a green soldier newly arrived in a combat zone. Simply put, Cherry describes individuals who are completely out of depth in every situation they are put in. Walker’s narrator is a Cherry throughout his whole life. While robbing banks, the narrator feels overwhelmed and confused. While taking drugs, he feels good but thinks about the moments where he will need more money for the drugs. While with Emily, he thinks about when she will leave him and all the horrible shit he puts her through. Additionally, Walker showcases the narrator’s PTSD perfectly. Somedays, the narrator is fine. He can sleep without any nightmares. Other days, he wants the drugs to make the pain go away or have the woman he’s with choke him to death. Eventually, the narrator’s drug use becomes vital to his survival. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator needs drugs to keep from getting violently ill. His withdrawals are so extreme that he cannot think of any other solutions other than drug use.
So, how will the movie turn out? Currently, a movie is being made based on this novel. The movie will be directed by the Russo Brothers, best known as creators behind Community and directors of the last two Avengers movies, and will mostly come out in 2020 or 2021. Furthermore, Jessica Goldberg, the creator of the television show The Path, will be adapting Cherry into a screenplay. The Russo brothers intend to shoot the movie in East Cleveland, where most of the book takes place. And actor Tom Holland, of Spider-Man fame, has already begun preparations for the film.
After reading a book that I know will be turned into a major motion picture, I like to make movie predictions. For Cherry, I have two predictions for the film: first, the narrator (Holland) will break the fourth wall and directly interact with the audience, or, second, the narrator will do voiceovers to explain everything around him. This may help the audience understand the narrator as a person, or as a “Cherry”. (Or, the Russo brothers will do neither and still make an amazing movie. Either way, they have my $14 for a ticket to see this movie.)
Holland is the perfect choice for this movie. First, we have not seen him play a character this dark before. Best known as sweet and sincere Peter Parker, Holland may surprise audiences with his range. (Glimpses of this range can be seen in movies such as In the Heart of the Sea, The Lost City of Z, and The Impossible). Holland will have to take the audience to all the dark places the narrator’s mind and actions take him. Second, Holland is the perfect age and build to play the narrator. The story documents the narrator’s life from ages 16-25 and Holland is currently 23 years old. He will not look too young nor too old to play the part. Furthermore, the narrator is a drug-addict with a military background. This means that Holland’s body will have to reflect an indigent war veteran’s body, which is achievable for someone of Holland’s physique. This, along with his talent, will most likely make Holland’s performance as the narrator unforgettable. One thing I can say for certain is that this film will stay true to the main character’s journey.
The Russo brothers are from East Cleveland and know people affected by the opioid epidemic. They are visionary directors who stay true to the internal journeys of the characters they present. (If you don’t believe me, then watch every movie and TV show these men have directed. You will see how they’re character and story driven.) This film is personal for the brothers. Because they know people who’ve been in similar situations to the narrator, they will properly represent those with similar struggles.
When I worked at pretrial services in Ohio, I worked with many people affected by the opioid epidemic. Each had different stories, different backgrounds, and different reasons they turned to drugs. It was clear that prison was not the environment for them to heal, but would only stop the addiction temporarily. It was also clear that they relied on their addictions and not something they could easily overcome. Walker’s main character exhibited these qualities. The narrator’s reason for his addiction could be a result from PTSD or from his relationship with Emily, but one thing is clear, he is not sure how he could get better. While reading this novel, I kept thinking about the people I have worked with, wondering if they were in jail, clean or dead. Mostly, I wondered if any them went through a similar journey as the narrator. As a future public defender, I know I will represent people similar to Walker’s narrator.
Based on interviews I’ve seen about the film, it is clear that the Russo brother’s will focus on the essence of the narrator’s being, which Walker summarizes beautifully in his novel,
“I didn’t really want to rob anyone. I just wanted some heroin. I wanted it to be over.”
If you’re looking for a book about a complex main character, read Cherry. If you’re looking for a book that showcases the propaganda of war, read Cherry. If you’re looking for a book that accurately depicts PTSD, read Cherry. If you’re looking for a book about why people become addicts or commit crimes, read Cherry. (Or, if you’re massive Russo brothers’ fan, then read Cherry. Or if want to see sweet, nice Tom Holland do some disgusting ass-shit in a movie like jerk off in the back of a military van or titty-fuck a chick around Christmas time, then read Cherry). However, I recommend that anyone who works in a social justice field to read Cherry.
Click here to learn more about Cherry.