JUNKIE LOVE is a very difficult book to review.

Originally published in 2013, it is less an autobiography and more a stylized account of author Joe Clifford’s last year of being homeless and battling drug addiction in San Francisco. Primarily set in and around the San Francisco area, JUNKIE LOVE tells the story of Clifford’s quick decent from New England-bred rock-and-roll hopeful, to 9-5 printshop office worker and nighttime party animal, to homeless shooting gallery resident. It’s a shocking fall made all the more brutal due to the fact that it’s told without remorse or regret. Make no mistake: at the time this story takes place, the next fix is the most important thing in the author’s life.

Clearly an unabashed fan of Kerouac and the beat authors of the 20th century, Clifford’s stylistic writing makes this an irresistible read. The story is told with a romantic yearning that contrasts against the raw and ugly truths of life on the street. Coming in at 176 pages, JUNKIE LOVE will either be finished in one sitting, or you’ll be forced to take your time with it as the duel reality of romantic dreams and hardcore drug usage sets in.

JUNKIE LOVE is brave and unashamed. From the physical descriptions of shooting up in his neck, to attempts at suicide via overdose, nothing is off-limits in this story. In other hands, or as a film with a bad director, this could be played for shock value or even cheap emotional “feelz”. However, told through the veil of his Salinger-inspired style, Clifford’s inner battle for acceptance and love really is the focus of the book. The non-linear storytelling enhances the feeling of chaos during this year of the author’s life. There are characters that appear throughout the story, like his dealer-friend Gluehead, his on-again and off-again girlfriend Amy, and friend Tom Pitts, but the reader isn’t meant to care for them. These are the people that surrounded Clifford at his lowest moments and may or may not have made it to the other side with him. There’s really no plot to the book, per se, except this: can a man who has been living rough on the streets of San Francisco, miraculously avoiding contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, been admitted into rehab seventeen times, actually survive this life? And if so, after burning so many bridges, after the death of his mother and the failure of his marriage, what is left? What is waiting for Clifford on the other side of sobriety?

Spoiler: LOTS. The man is now a successful novelist with, by all accounts, a wonderful family.

To be honest, this novella hits hard on so many levels. I’m still processing it in different levels of my brain. But I can honestly say that I’m glad I read it and I’m even more glad that the author is still with us today. The reissue of JUNKIE LOVE has a new cover, as well as a new forward by Jerry Stahl to go along with the original forward by Clifford. The author’s afterword is excellent, and vital for the reader’s experience.


Dan Malmon