Cherry is a miracle of literary serendipity, a triumph born of gore and suffering that reads as if it’s been scratched out with a dirty needle across the tender skin of a man’s forearm ... Walker credits Tim O’Connell, his editor at Knopf, with transforming those typewritten pages into this tour de force. But when I contacted O’Connell, he claimed ... 'Nico simply poured everything he had into it.' That sounds right—and true to the searing authenticity of this novel, which tries to answer the question, 'How do you get to be a scumbag?' But in the process of laying out the road to perdition, Walker demonstrates the depths of his humanity and challenges us to bridge the distance that we imagine separates us from the damned.
War narratives usually fall somewhere on a spectrum between elegiac and ironic, and “Cherry” certainly skews ironic. Mr. Walker achieves this effect in the way he mixes registers, switching quickly between the slangy or ultra-simple and the literary or vaguely bureaucratic ... the humor in the book is a sort of anti-humor; it is deadpan in the extreme ... One of the chief pleasures of Mr. Walker’s writing is how it shies away from pretension, both stylistically and thematically, yielding memorable descriptions ... Mr. Walker’s crisp observations draw us in, so that we happily follow the narrator through the war, through his seedy life in sex and drugs, until he’s eventually robbing banks. There are no tricks in the writing, no striving for meaning on every page when there is not much more to relate than the drug-hunger that consumes an addict’s life. The book is wonderfully direct ... a bracingly original novel.
The unnamed narrator of Cherry, Nico Walker’s coarsely poetic debut ... provides an agonizing character study ... The book is gritty, profane, and raw ... Walker’s prose resembles that of Denis Johnson (particularly Jesus’ Son), only a little rougher around the edges. Indeed the writing here is conspicuously uneven. Its uncompromising nature at times feels less realistic than crude, less relentless than repetitious; character depth isn’t the primary goal here, but Walker doesn’t have a firm grip on Emily, a figure of both sympathy and culpability who lacks internal consistency. Walker’s expression still shines through. One major reason: Cherry doesn’t ask for pity. It presents a landscape ravaged by war and drugs, greed and pain, and introduces a voice that sounds ugly only until you read closely enough to see the beauty lying underneath an American tragedy.
By the end of the more than 300 pages, the reader still doesn’t know enough about Emily to argue otherwise. Though she’s one of the novel’s organizing principles — the story starts and ends with her — Emily is essentially a quirky collection of details used to give meaning to the narrator’s existence...This shortsightedness doesn’t stop at Emily. Women, when they appear, are categorized by their sexual availability and desirability. Often they’re given no name, and simply assigned to a male character — his woman, his girl. What’s meant by this construct is unclear. Of course, some men really talk this way, but accuracy as justification seems at odds with how the narrator intends to be perceived ... Cherry is a singular portrait of the opioid epidemic and the United States’ failure to provide adequate support to veterans. It’s full of slapstick comedy, despite gut-clenching depictions of dope sickness, the futility of war and PTSD. The sections on Army life in and out of Iraq offer a searing glimpse into the wretchedness of that American disaster. As a stylist, Walker is un-self-conscious and rangy. He has a gift for the strategically deployed profanity, and writes dialogue so musical and realistic you’ll hear it in the air around you. He can pull off judicious caps lock. And yet, it’s a struggle to root for a novel that relies on a woman for narrative structure even as it constantly undermines her humanity.
...epic and exhilarating, foul and touching ... It is a remarkable accomplishment. As a confessional outpouring by a man trying to face his responsibility for all he has done wrong, it will shake your soul with vicarious grief. Its depictions of combat and addiction are carefully drawn and horrifyingly immediate, almost reportorial in detail ... his book is unaccountably fun to read—a page-flipper of a tragedy ... The narrator describes the ghoulish effects of an IED blast in extraordinary, vivid language that is among the best war writing I’ve ever read ... Walker writes, in the first person, like someone talking naturally, unselfconsciously. He doesn’t watch himself. He flows ... The move from humor to poignant ache—with an edge of desperation—happens smoothly ... The complexity of the relationship between hero and heroine makes the novel endlessly troubling, morbidly fascinating. To what extent is each of them guilty of or complicit in his or her own destruction?
I was prepared to assume the hype surrounding Nico Walker’s debut book was more about the novelty of an incarcerated author than the quality of the prose, which has been hailed by some as next-gen Denis Johnson. Then I devoured Cherry in close to a single sitting and understood why this harrowing roman à clef about war and drug addiction has found an audience ... Cherry is never just a parable. It doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. It puts us in the passenger seat with the narrator, dying to love America and ready to kill, or at least rob a bank, for an honest moment ... Cherry is not perfect by any means. The women are one-dimensional, mostly there to do drugs and have sex with or to be agents of disappointment ... That [Walker] bet his life on fiction is laudable. That he delivered is literature.
Heavily indebted to the profane blood, guts, bullets, and opiate-strewn absurdities dreamed up by Thomas McGuane, Larry Brown, and Barry Hannah, Cherry tells a story that feels infinitely more real, and undeniably tougher than the rest ... It’s like college, or high school, or that insidious hometown bar filled with men who never graduated beyond punching each other in the balls. Women fight in this Army, sure, but they’re sex objects, purely and without exception. The narrator and his infantry buddies lose their collective toxic-masculine minds when a woman, a cook no less, scores the company’s first kill—but this doesn’t stop them from trying to sleep with her ... You know how the story ends. Military veterans return home, traumatized and socially adrift. Many turn to opioids, others suicide. Nico Walker somehow survived, and is now serving 11 years in a federal prison, where he wrote this book.
Walker tells the story in a biting staccato, by turns shrewd, heartfelt, and repellent. And while his young narrator is less reflective and vastly more self-absorbed than the world-weary author who created him, their tales are well-aligned ... Cherry‘s descriptions of Army life are as acerbic and unsparing—and often darkly hilarious—as the boot-camp scenes from Full Metal Jacket.
...it's a very strong debut ... The wearing thing about the novel – and also the main source of its dark charisma – is its steady undermining of this thready note of sweetness ... Cherry (sporting the hideous US cover design that's seemingly required by law) is a stark story, told with a continuously disarming candor in a string of vividly-written vignettes. The vignettes themselves never really coalesce into a larger narrative, but that's something of a rarity in debut novels in any case. As it is, the book is well worth attention.
...the rare work of literary fiction by a young American that carries with it nothing of the scent of an MFA program. Instead, Walker’s prose style has the sound of mid-20th-century American writing ... Cherry provides a meticulous narrative of opioid addiction, one of the most detailed account I’ve seen in American lit ... The only humor in Cherry is black, and there are no silver linings, no false rays of hope. It’s a bleak novel, and the bleakness only occasionally relents around the love story between the narrator and his ex-wife ... deficiencies of characterization don’t mar this novel. Instead, they’re intrinsic to its dark vision of the warping effects of the Iraq War and the opioid epidemic. The word for it is dehumanization. It was probably inevitable that a book like this would emerge from these twin scourges on American life abroad and at home, but it wasn’t necessary that it be a novel of such searing beauty as Cherry.
Written by a first-time author currently incarcerated, this is both a sad love story and a raw tale of a young man's downfall owing to war and its aftermath. While the main character is no one's role model, he has enough intelligence and moral sense to seem not totally beyond redemption ... A raging, agonized scream of a novel and a tremendously powerful debut.
A man who likens himself to a 'stray dog with the mange' descends into addiction in this frustrating debut ... Some readers may find the innumerable descriptions of the Sisyphean life of an addict suitably transgressive. For everyone else, the insistence on Emily’s culpability for the narrator’s degeneration, as well as the depiction of other women as useful only for sex, make the novel feel like it’s willing to describe the catastrophe of its narrator’s life, but not truly examine it.
The writing is raw, coarse, and sometimes forced ... Yet it often has a brute power, tapping the unadorned, pointedly repetitive language of addiction or battle ... A bleak tale told bluntly with an abundance of profanity but also of insight into two kinds of living hell.