Tuesday, August 29, 2006

White Light

November sees the release of Tony O’Neill’s debut novel Digging The Vein. I first stumbled over Tony’s work via Scarecrow, Full Moon Empty Sports Bag and a random search on Selfish Cunt which pulled out a poem of Tony’s on Laura Hird’s website. It’s not very often that a writer’s words can punch builder’s hands through the paper, and throttle the lifeblood out of you. But Tony’s words, they manage to do just that, his experiences are so powerful and emotional, and full of fucking heart that it pales everybody else’s work into insignificance. Tony O’Neill will be remembered as one of Northern Britain’s great young hopes, in years to come, when Monica Ali, Dan Brown, and Zadie Smith are nothing but footnotes in the history of time, O'Neill’s work will still be standing tall and proud; a testimony to life in the gutter in the late nineties.

His subject matter is often based around the time of living in LA, scoring crack and heroin from barrio dealers, as his bare feet melt into the sticky hot tarmac. It’s not the addiction that’s at the core of his work though; this isn’t some bullshit whinging account of the 12 steps, there is genuinely more to it than that. At the heart of Digging The Vein is the crux point of when O’Neill turns to heroin, the claustrophobia of a frustrated lifeless marriage that pens in time and space, leaving no way out but through oblivion. The landscape and people of LA, almost a heartless habitat, are described with desolation and searing heat, alongside a soundtrack that rattles as a sub narrative in the novel, taking in Kraftwerk, Joy Division, and The Stooges. Digging The Vein isn’t a story of redemption, there’s no happy ending, it’s just pure, unadulterated Brutalism.

O’Neill is not only a respected writer; he is also a brilliant and possibly underrated poet. His poetry is raw and real – and as one if his main influences Dan Fante once said ‘from the heart’. Soaking up writers such as Huncke, Burroughs, Kerouac, Bukowski, Carroll, John Fante, it’s easy to trace O’Neill as the natural successor to this confessional bloodline. His latest work, Tales From Coney Island, give an almost Browning edge to his new poems, sucking up the freaks, the empty rides, the fringe life that exists not only in places like Coney Island, but could be easily applied to Blackpool or Southend; rotting shells by the sea, populated half the year by spectre like ride attendants waiting for the next dime.
Tony now lives in New York with his wife and daughter; he’s currently working on his second novel, and a biography of a crack addicted NFL league player, who blew his millions in whorehouses, crystal meth and lavish diamonds. Digging The Vein comes out in the UK on Wrecking Ball Press in November, for samples of Tony’s prose and poetry check out his website

Adelle Stripe

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