There is something refreshing about Walker’s spare prose, writing that can make Hemingway seem ornate in comparison.
Sometimes the novel itself is better than the story. Much has been made about Nico Walker and Cherry but for every review marveling at the author’s incarceration for armed robbery, there is another praising Walker’s harrowing narrative about an Iraq war vet turned heroin addict and its clear-eyed prose. Skip the origin story and dive right into page one as Cherry is quite the heartbreaking read.
Taken straight from Walker’s own experiences fighting in the Middle East and robbing Cleveland banks, Cherry came about after a publisher saw story about the author’s experiences on BuzzFeed. The publisher encouraged Walker to write about his experiences and after much back and forth and revising, the book ended up being published by Knopf.
Two searing sentiments burn at the heart of Cherry: “This is how you find the one to break your heart” and “How do you get to be a scumbag?” Over the course of 300 pages, Walker shows us just how someone can descend from a middle-class family to discarded war veteran to junkie to bank robber. In a country flooded with opioid addicts, Cherry is a strong look at desperate people who do horrible things, and asks us to understand their humanity.
The book begins in the early ‘00s where Walker’s nameless narrator exists in a listless malaise. He’s in college, with the support of his family, but really isn’t doing much with his life. He has no aspirations for the future nor any firm direction. He soon joins the Army on a lark and finds himself training to be a medic. Walker shows us the futility of war as his narrator watches his friends die, evades IEDs and roughs up the very people he’s come to protect. It makes no sense and, much like Catch-22, Cherry demonstrates how war is the folly of mankind.
There is something refreshing about Walker’s spare prose, writing that can make Hemingway seem ornate in comparison. It’s this no-bullshit approach that separates Cherry from the other post-9/11 stories that have sprung from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each chapter reads almost like a singular anecdote, with stories involving fighting, alcohol, sex and drugs. At lot of it is weary in its humor and sadly funny.
Things get worse for the narrator when he returns from Iraq. Reconvening with an old girlfriend, they slip deep into heroin addiction. In many ways, the life of an addict is more dehumanizing than that of a soldier. There is little breathing room in Cherry and the devolution of Walker’s narrator is steep.
In a country rotting from the inside out and in a time where politicians don’t give a shit about the poor huddled masses, Cherry is an incisive antidote to the feel-good entertainment designed to distract. Walker lived on the front lines, in both the war and in drug addiction, and Cherry is his agonizing testament. Proceed at your own risk, but Walker brings you close to worlds that really exist – ones we’re taught to pretend that don’t.