Dopamine Collapse: Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman

everyDopamine Collapse:

Every Man a Menace
Patrick Hoffman
Atlantic Monthly Press

At the opening of Patrick Hoffman’s second novel we meet Raymond Gaspar on the eve of his release from prison. Raymond’s street smarts have endeared him to the prison’s kingpin, Arthur, who sets Raymond up with a job on his release.

With that EVERY MAN A MENACE sets Raymond as its anchor. He’s an innocent sort of criminal who’s in over his head. Raymond is the first character in a multi-POV, ocean crossing thriller that takes us through a case study of a vertically integrated MDMA supply chain.

Despite the above description, the story doesn’t jump cut from one location to the next. Or start with a tough guy face-offs and end with explosions. Rather, most of the characters navigate the story reluctant to step into the future. As the story unfolds we find that reluctance is tied to a new business arrangement being forced on the characters.

Along with POV, Hoffman does great work at playing with time. On page 6 when Raymond checks into the Prita Hotel in San Francisco he tells us, “The hallways smelled like cigarettes and crack smoke. They charged by the day, the week, or the month. The rooms consisted of a bed, a small TV and a locked door.” Two hundred and forty pages later we’re with Jackie as she followed Gloria to the Prita on a personal surveillance mission. ”It looked like a third world jail,” Jackie says. That’s it. It’s later in the story so Hoffman doesn’t need to cover that ground again. But their respective Prita descriptions are also full of character.

Oddly enough, in describing a multi-POV, global thriller EVERY MAN A MENACE is a book that feels like it beats with one hart. Through Hoffman’s eyes the criminal heart is not all greed and violence. Inside each criminal is someone who longs for an alternate life, where they don’t fight for survival every day. Sometimes the character clues are slight, and in others, like Raymond, there overt. Characters that operate under that longing don’t turn every conversation into a confrontation. These people are circling each other, and wondering if the person across from them is trustworthy. The tragedy of their lives doesn’t hinge on the fact that nobody can be trusted; it’s that most of the characters don’t even trust themselves.

I also asked Patrick about EVERY MAN A MENACE, and this is what he had to say:

Gregory Rossi: Given your background / bio as a private investigator why didn’t you funnel your story through a PI lens, or an aspect of the justice system, given your insider view?

PATRICK HOFFMAN

PATRICK HOFFMAN

Patrick Hoffman: The simple answer is that I don’t really love reading detective novels. I don’t have anything against them, I just don’t find myself drawn to them as a reader. But I haven’t read Ross McDonald, yet, so maybe that view will change. I suppose I could write one about cops (and there are cops in THE WHITE VAN) but I find criminals more interesting than police.

Gregory Rossi: The book has a strong melancholy feel. I think it starts w/ Raymond and how he runs this kind of alternative-universe in his mind. Like if his mom didn’t lose her job when he was a kid, things would’ve turned out differently. In small ways, all of the narrators have those thoughts. What can you tell me about this aspect of your novel? (Is it explicit and intentional, or one of those things that may have been in your subconscious and just came through in the writing?)

Patrick Hoffman: Thrillers seem almost defined by the way they handle time and how they tend to stay in the present moment as opposed to looking at an entire lifetime or even multiple generations of a family. One of the challenges of writing thrillers is finding occasions when you can pull back from the immediate action and get a wider shot of the timeline. I think it’s also nice to take your foot off the gas pedal sometimes, and break up the action. As to the specifics of this kind of melancholy, don’t you find yourself, when you get in trouble, looking back at past choices and being like, if I just did X then maybe Y wouldn’t have happened?

Gregory Rossi: What was your inspiration for the book? Was it a scene, character, or image?

Patrick Hoffman: A private investigator friend of mine called me on the phone and said, “Did you know that Molly comes from a tree in Cambodia?” I didn’t know that. And it’s true–one way to make Molly is to use Safrole oil as a precursor. Safrole oil can be distilled from a certain tree in Cambodia. Around the same time that my friend said that, I happened to be reading the book, McMafia by Misha Glenny (a great book!). In it, he writes that drug conspiracies can be broken down into three groups: the people that make the drugs, the people that move the drugs, and the people that sell the drugs. So, I got that phone call, and I read that paragraph, and I started thinking about three separate groups in an MDMA trafficking ring. The challenge in writing it was figuring out how to make those groups (the makers, movers, and sellers) feel connected to each other in ways that went beyond just a drug conspiracy.

Gregory Rossi: You inhabit a hybrid space that is both literary and genre. To evidence that, your first two readings after MENACE was released were at Mysterious Bookshop in TriBeCa, and Greenlight in Brooklyn. I love both bookstores, and go to readings at each regularly. Mysterious is definitely more of a genre reading audience/store, and your crowd at Greenlight was more literary. How did you experience those readings?

Patrick Hoffman: I love both of those bookstores too! Otto Penzler, Ian, Charles, all the people at Mysterious are so smart. That place literally feels magical to me. And Greenlight, because of its location, and the taste of its booksellers, feels like one the best bookstores in the entire country. Also–related to this split between genre and literary¬–Greenlight is progressive in that they don’t shelve their thrillers separately from their other novels. Equal rights for all novels! Seriously though, I’ve always been confused about the separation of thrillers and literary novels. Why don’t we think that books like DISGRACE, or THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, or PLAY IT AS IT LAYS are thrillers? They are! At the end of the day, the authors I tend to love reading most are generally hybrids: Sarah Waters, Robert Stone, Denis Johnson, Dennis Cooper, Paticia Highsmith (at least with Ripley), Alan Furst, Georges Simenon, John LeCarre.

Gregory Rossi: MDMA/Molly is a party drug. But even in the club and party scenes where people are on Molly, we never get the full blow-up hedonist treatment. Was there a conscious decision not to do that?

Patrick Hoffman: My operating principle is to try and keep it real. I try to ask myself: What would really happen here? So, if Semion is in the club and he’s on Molly, I just try and see what he would really do in that moment. I think they do go into full hedonist mode in their trip to Bangkok, but I only outlined what happened there, because I‘m a prude.

Gregory Rossi: Neither of the two prominent women in the book are colder and more ruthless than the men. This goes against the crime fiction trope, where powerful women are often presented as more masculine and vicious than men, i.e., stone cold killers. Not writing them like that is refreshing, can you tell me about how you developed those characters?

Patrick Hoffman: I think the main trope I try and push back against is the idea that there are good and bad characters. I want all of my characters to be a mix of good and bad. Sometimes readers seem to miss the good, but that’s their fault, not mine! I was conscious of gender issues as I wrote those two characters, though. It’s hard not to be in today’s climate (which is a good thing).

Gregory Rossi: How much of this book takes place during a dopamine collapse? And why only ecstasy and not a bigger drug ring?

Patrick Hoffman: You know, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that, but yeah, the characters in each section seem to suffering from dopamine collapses. Maybe that’s why everyone appears so menacing! It’s funny when I was researching the drug trade in the Golden Triangle, every expert I talked to asked, “Why write it about ecstasy instead of crystal meth?” I tried to hint at that by making Eugene Nana ask the same question of Semion. I guess I was attracted to the idea of the idea of a seemingly benign drug like MDMA (that everyone thinks of as just a party and love drug) having a dark side. Also, it seemed hard to do a book about crystal meth right after Breaking Bad had just finished!

Gregory Rossi: You’re in the criminal justice system. Let’s say there’s a freak accident / happening that results in you going to jail. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a prison sentence in the US?

Patrick Hoffman: I would think, Oh man, this better get my books some good publicity.

Gregory Rossi’s fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and Shotgun Honey. He lives in New York. His novel THE COME UP uses Nas’s 1994 album Illmatic as a soundtrack. THE COME UP is available at www.gregorywrossi.com or Amazon.

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