It was Patti Smith and William Burroughs who turned me onto Alexander Trocchi and his autobiographical masterpiece published in 1960 by Grove Press—a book out of print, a book Trocchi burned himself at his own book burning, a book where Trocchi uses a fictionalized journal of Junkie, Joe Necchi, who lives and shoots heroin—in solidarity of course—on a scow on the Hudson River, to convey a life that is now an epidemic.
At first the book terrified me: I had heard of the beat poet and junkie so I knew the power his words could ultimately possess when it came to heroin and living in a world of Personal Anarchy, something junkie’s inadvertently succumb to with a strange level of valor that appears to be cowardice at best. I have never read a book like this: this original, intelligent, edgy, repugnant, alluring, all at the same time. The biblical reference is used with absolute perfection—Cain being the tiller of the earth, and Necchi living on a scow that carries dirt and gravel is no coincidence, just brilliance—something only Steinbeck’s East of Eden can compare to.
Trocchi knew how to write, not only in general, but about the junkie’s conversant locale:
“As I went back to my own scow the Swede stopped me. He leered. I was aware of his forearms, heavy like two cods, and tattooed from wrist to elbow. His broad teeth were stained the colour of a neglected urinal.” (A. Trocchi, Cain’s Book)
I have read Trocchi’s banned and self-burned book three times. I am a recovering junkie, and believe me, he has managed to turn something as evil and abysmal as heroin—and addiction altogether—into a beautiful piece of gross literature.