Rock Fiction Review: It’s a Long Way to the Top by Cherry Cox

Posted: February 6, 2016 in Reviews
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I don’t like junkie stories. I don’t. So the fact that I liked Cherry Cox’s debut, It’s a Long Way to the Top, tells you how good it was. And I’m not saying that because Cherry and I have become friends and you’ll see more of her here at The Rock of Pages, either. We actually became friends after I realized this was a darn good book. Possibly even because of it.

Cherry Cox

It’s the story of Jackson—Jax—who is in a band called Acts of Insanity. It’s the 80s, the band could maybe possibly break out if they record a killer demo and impress label people… and Jax is gay. But since this is the homophobic ‘80s, he can’t let people know.

Including the band’s amazingly hot new singer, Harley.

Now, what that synopsis doesn’t tell you is that Jax is also a heroin addict. A high-functioning addict, but an addict just the same. And while it made me sick when he shot Harley up after Harley got roughed up by some cops, it also made sense that he would choose that particular route of pain relief. After all, it dulls Jax’s pain… why not Harley’s, too?

I think it’s the fact that Jax is high-functioning that sets this book apart from the other junkie lit books I’ve read (and hated). The other books tend to dwell on the struggle, on the descent into hell—there’s something pathetic going on in those other books. But in Cox’s world, Jax’s heroin doesn’t stop him from trying to move forward. On the one hand, he knows he has a problem. But on the other hand, he simply doesn’t care. He’s too busy. He’s got the band to take care of. He’s got relationships with people, including a friends-with-benefits woman. Yes, I said the gay man’s sleeping with a woman.

In real life, things aren’t as easy as we often make them be in fiction, and Cox really hits on the complexities of life in this novel. Jax’s sister adores him, but doesn’t always act in what’s truly his best interests. Instead, she acts in what she wants Jax’s best interests to be. Which, of course, is what people do, and which, of course, results in disasters and hurt feelings.

In the end, the band’s poised for success. It’d have been nice if Cox had ended it right there, on that cliffhanger, but she pushed it and took us into new territory. It feels forced and it took away from the high that Jax and company should have had at least a few minutes to enjoy.

Because it’s Cox’s debut, we’ll forgive her this misstep. After all, she’s been nothing but honest with the reader and hasn’t shied away from showing the complications that erupt at every second. That’s what makes it real.

But it’s also fiction, and there’s always a time to bend the truth to fit the reader’s expectations and the conventions of the genre.

Still, I can’t wait to see what comes next for Jax and company. Just when they should be riding high, they’ve been hit with another complication (really, I wish that had started the second book), and it’s one that may or may not render the whole situation thus far moot. Or does it; I can also see this opening the band up to bigger and better.

Oh, Cherry Cox. Write faster, will you?

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