Gentleman Junkie and other stories of the hung-up generation
by Harlan Ellison
Cover Artist: Leo and Diane Dillon
Review by April Disney
Subterranean Press Trade Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596065390
Date: 17 January 2013
Harlan Ellison's first big hit from the early sixties is back in print here with a poignant look at American life in the mid-twentieth century. With dark edges and a cautionary bent, this collection of short stories could become a classic of American literature. Despite Ellison's obvious mastery of the short story, "Gentleman Junkie" is often overlooked simply because it is a foray into an unusual genre for this normally speculative author. It certainly deserves more attention than it's gotten, not only for the quality and downright grittiness of the fiction but also for its historical significance in giving Ellison a reason to keep pursuing the career of writing.
Written during his short stint in the military, Gentleman Junkie and other tales carries a persistence and brand of honesty rarely seen in writers analyzing the follies of their own generation. All of the stories deal with the issues du jour, such as racism, anti-semitism, sexism, addiction, and the beginning of the end of the American dream. All of these narratives also showcase the dark side of humanity and highlight much of the beginning of the counterculture era.
Many of the shorts in this collection make quite an impact: here are a few focal points.
"Daniel White for the Greater Good" - This piece is often recognized as the most important and memorable of the collection. Tackling racism in the south, Ellison turns expectation on its head and makes the reader consider the law of unintended consequences. Juxtaposed with the final tale, "The Night of Delicate Terrors", it provides a fascinating look at the realities of race in Ellison's time, something many take for granted in this age of acceptance.Gentleman Junkie... is a fascinating look at the late fifties and early sixties. Ellison's prose is easy to submerge oneself into, as existing fans can already appreciate. This book can be used as a learning tool for current and future generations, an important historical fiction, and just an outright great group of stories. Philosophically deep and also pleasurable to read, this collection deserves a look from anyone serious about American literature.