Hammered out on a prison typewriter, Cherry marks the arrival of a raw, bleakly hilarious, and surprisingly poignant voice straight from the dark heart of America.
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 relationship alive, they marry before he ships out to Iraq. But as an army medic, he is unprepared for the grisly reality 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 returns from Iraq, his PTSD is profound, and the drugs on the street have changed. The opioid crisis is beginning to swallow 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 really good at – robbing banks.
A man who likens himself to a "stray dog with the mange" descends into addiction in this frustrating debut. Walker's unnamed narrator begins the novel as "a soft kid" from a stable home, a vegetarian shoe store employee dating a college classmate named Emily who likes Modest Mouse and Edward Albee. But when Emily transfers, he fails out of school and enlists in the Army as a medic, reasoning "I don't have any other ideas." He wastes time in Iraq "waiting for the war to happen" and grows further apart from Emily. Upon returning home to Cleveland, the narrator starts "getting into the OxyContin pretty hard." He traipses through a parade of new women before Emily reenters the picture, having started using drugs herself. "There was nothing better than to be young and on heroin," the narrator writes. Some readers may find the innumerable descriptions of the Sisyphean life of an addict suitably transgressive. For everyone else, the insistence on Emily's culpability for the narrator's degeneration, as well as the depiction of other women as useful only for sex, make the novel feel like it's willing to describe the catastrophe of its narrator's life, but not truly examine it.