This is a raw and visceral account of a young man from his schooldays through his distressing experiences of drug abuse and war. Written in the first person as he thinks and speaks, the unnamed protagonist tells his tale with acceptance and dark humour.
Despite the horrors and atrocities he witnesses and instigates, he has a level of sensitivity that often sits as a paradox. He sees the brutality and futility of war, the practicalities of dealing with corpses that have been the victims of gunshot or bombs, for example, and yet he still feels sympathy for the feral dogs as they are shot out of boredom. Awkward, vegetarian and loyal to his wife. In spite of his crassness he is rather likeable.
'Cherry' is the word given to the new recruits in the army and it means new and therefore inexperienced. The 'cherry' theme is carried through as young people find ways to deal with their grown-up lives - war, relationships and debt. For a while drugs are the answer: 'There was nothing better than to be young and on heroin.' The part dealing with buying and taking drugs does drag a bit though.
The pace generally is good with a mix of chapter length and snappy sentences. The vocabulary is appropriate for a young man of his time, although I struggled with some parts not being an American from the early 2000s, but I got the gist. Always engaging and colourful.
This is a powerful, disturbing and original work that penetrated my dreams at night. Not a desirable effect but a compliment to the book nonetheless. Tragic, realistic and yet shot through with optimism.
Published on Thursday 28 February by Random House, Vintage Books and Jonathan Cape. Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.