With a plot tapped into addiction and attempts at recovery, The Green Kangaroos is an intense, inventive look into selfishness at its most extreme, most ugly. Like A Clockwork Orange it is less about the horror of the deviant and more about the horrors perpetrated by those trying to correct the deviancy. The year is 2099 and Perry Samson is unapologetically addicted to atlys, a powerful drug that is most potently euphoric with injection straight into the sexual organs, in Perry’s case the testicles. Even as Perry steps deeper into self-destructive depravity to attain fixes of atlys-induced happiness, his younger sister (with the help of their parents) pursues a radical recovery treatment for Perry in the undying hope that her brother can be reformed.
Works dealing with the powerful gravity of addiction and the dangers that it can bring directly to the addict or indirectly to friends, family, even strangers aren’t uncommon. What sets apart McHugh’s novel is the consideration that the agendas of those trying to cure the addict may be just as defined by destructively addictive tendencies, to a selfishness just as violent. Perry is generally unlikable, crass, and utterly selfish. Yet, he possesses a strong, honest self-perception. Atlys is a drug that makes him feel unbelievably happy, that fuels desires and centers him, regardless of whether it is helping or hurting him. Perry understands his predicament, that using this aptly named drug as a means of navigating through his existence is ultimately poisonous and destructive. He is fully aware that his need is pushing him further into situations he wouldn’t have considered before – including selling his flesh literally (‘potsticking’) and figuratively (prostitution) to fund some more of the drug. While he regularly lies to others to suit his desires, never does Perry lie to himself.
In contrast are the members of Perry’s family, particularly his little sister Nadine. Nadine is shown as firmly committed to the idea of saving her brother, but the matter of her motivations is less clear. She seeks out a new treatment option that to any rational person would be clearly too-good-to-be-true. Despite having a sense of this deep down, Nadine (and the parents) lie to themselves with the righteousness of their hopes and goals, and ignore any sense of dangers. They avoid asking questions or fully recognizing their predicament (or Perry’s) in the care of the doctors who run the recovery program. As the novel progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Nadine is not really looking for Perry’s salvation, but rather is pursuing her own selfish desires to have a ‘normal’, non-addict brother. She will lie to herself, risk herself and others to attain this state of happiness. Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, the main doctor at the treatment facility has gone through the similar extremes of an addiction to the recovery process at the cost of anything, including the bodies of those he seeks to help.
McHugh’s The Green Kangaroos is thus a really perceptive and profound novel despite its short length and the gritty crassness of its subjects. The futuristic setting and speculative aspects of the recovery program are well imagined and integrated into the plot. At first given its setting in 2099 I wanted to see more of what general society was like, how it was different other than the bits of underworld jargon and environment that McHugh shows. But soon I realized the tight limitation of revealing this universe to Perry’s world and the institution of recovery help keep the focus of the novel intense, tight.
The language is certainly not something that will be to everyone’s taste. It is frequently vulgar and visceral in its depictions of sex and drugs in the underbelly of society. Yet, this shouldn’t be surprising for the topic or style of McHugh and this novel’s setting. In terms of the writing, there were a few instances where dialogue in particular seemed forced, the only critique to this that I can reasonably perceive. At first some of the similes feel too absurd, too much like provoking for reaction. However, I quickly realized these occur in Perry’s first person point of view chapters, and he is simply that kind of guy. McHugh’s writing definitely shines though in her descriptive passages. You can tell she has a love for words, and I most love the playfulness of her prose. This is really what drew me to her work originally. For instance, right from the start with the prologue, she plays on the word ‘junk’ in its multiple meanings and then parallels that at the start of chapter one with our introduction to Perry. McHugh’s imagination is strong and energetic, and she constructs a story well here from the words on up to the plot and themes. I’ll look forward to reading more, even when it is a genre or style that isn’t at the top of my usual reading tastes.