Jason Pine


On his book The Alchemy of Meth: A Decomposition

Cover Interview of March 18, 2020

In a nutshell

The Alchemy of Meth, to me, is really about the second part of the title, A Decomposition. It is steeped in the materials of meth making, but it is also an alibi for talking about decomposition in the United States in its multiple forms: the breakdown of everyday consumer products—the active unmaking of industrial chemicals in meth labs and their ordinary, passive leaching and off-gassing anywhere and everywhere; the slow deformation of any ordinary home and the accelerated transmutation of people and landscapes through biochemical tweaking and ecological injury; and the disintegration of the American Dream, which has had a very long toxic half-life.

The American Dream is the gateway drug. Intoxicated and triggered by it, some people reach for meth because it promises to make dreams come true. Meth increases energy and alertness. More importantly, it generates excitement about good rewards to come. This felt sense of futurity is like hope. The Alchemy of Meth is set in this overdrawn future. It follows how things, people, landscapes and lives have come to decompose and bust apart, leading the way toward how they are composed in the first place, and how they are recombining again and again in unforeseen ways.

I needed a form of writing that wouldn’t simply describe, or worse, explain decomposition, but instead perform it. At some point the answer became obvious: rather than compose a book (academic writing as usual), I made a decomposition. That is, the book is my refusal to overwork the material I gathered and subordinate it to authorial mastery (theory as usual). Of course, I am the author from beginning to end and every choice, even the most uncomfortable ones like self-exposure, is mine, but the decompositional form of the book—the fragmented and incomplete narratives and the third-person voice (free indirect discourse) that issues simultaneously from me and the author and the people I write about (including “Jason”)—leaves room, I hope, for readers to enter the text and make their own way.

So I hope readers do just that. I wield my authorial power not to direct their reading as much as to make one kind of reading untenable. That is, a comfortable, distanced reading that leers at a “them” in “that place over there.” Meth cooking is a hyperbolic version of something intimately familiar to a lot of people: coming undone while in pursuit of something greater, or simply something livable, in late liberalism. I implicate myself and I hope the book implicates readers. More than anything, I want readers to feel something for the people whose stories make the book what it is.