The best way I can describe Nico Walker’s debut novel Cherry is as follows: Requiem for a Dream written by Ernest Hemingway…if Ernest Hemingway had been a millennial with an exceptionally sardonic sense of humor. It’s also brilliant. The story follows a young, jaded Iraqi war military veteran who returns home only to face another battle in the form of PTSD symptoms and a debilitating drug addiction. He and his longtime girlfriend mutually descend into a dark junkie lifestyle, culminating in the protagonist robbing banks in order to pay for their precious opioids and heroin.
The narrator’s voice undoubtedly serves as the novel’s most striking feature. In terse, expletive ridden sentences, he recounts the story of his heartbreaking downward spiral with a tone that wavers between world-weariness and poignant romanticism. Most notably, however, his language avoids any indication of self-pity. He takes full accountability for his self-destructive decision-making while revealing to us his most unsavory thoughts. Rather than ostracizing the reader, however, this only makes him more sympathetic, more human.
In an author’s note before the novel begins, Nico Walker asserts that “these things didn’t ever happen” and “these people didn’t ever exist.” And yet, Walker, a military veteran and recovering drug addict, is currently serving an eleven-year jail sentence for bank robbery during which he wrote Cherry in its entirety.
I had heard that Cherry was semi-autobiographical before reading, but this didn’t truly sink in until I had reached the book’s afterward. Any reader will immediately take note of the fact that Walker’s voice in the postscript is identical to that of the narrator’s. Perhaps this is just a small point of interest, but at the same time the realization gave me chills. Sometimes when reading a book, the prose doesn’t just blow you away, but it actually forces you to take a step back and acknowledge how special the mind behind them must be. Cherry was one of those books for me.
Walker’s writing style oozes confidence, self-awareness, and wit. At the same time, it feels effortless, as if the novel had been written in one session, one draft, one long go of it. Ernest Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Cherry exemplifies this mindset. Regardless of the alterations and additions that Walker had to make regarding his own personal narrative in order to tell a good story, you know that at its core, Cherry is honest, often brutally so. Above all, it leaves you wanting more. Not more Cherry, but more of Walker’s voice. The future for this debut novelist is bright.