The Threepenny Review

Addiction’s Contradictions

Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman. Simon and Schuster, 2019, $26.00 cloth.

JONAS ANDERSON is a bullshitter. He’s a twenty-seven-year-old teenager, the kind of guy who attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings but secretly mocks the recovering addicts trying to save his life. That’s too bad. He’s clean but fending off a nasty habit—“Four doses of oxycodone a day, a couple of tramadol in the mornings, a few methadone now and then, and a weekend bump of heroin to take the edge off.” You’d think with that kind of trouble hanging over his head he’d want help. But he doesn’t. Even though he’s lost a series of adjunct teaching positions for reckless decisions like requiring students to crash a funeral and then write about it, he’s got a plan: enroll in a graduate program at Lund University in Sweden, “the most drug-free country in the Western world,” where, thanks to his Swedish mother’s foresight, he has citizenship and command of the native tongue. It’s not that the protagonist of Johannes Lichtman’s impressive debut novel, , is intolerable. Jonas can be thoughtful in ways that belie his selfishness. His narrative voice, by turns indignant and amused, keeps its distance from the kind of sentimentalizing that diminishes human vulnerability. He’s intelligent and funny. Having earned an M.F.A., he’s had success publishing in small literary journals. But his nagging insecurity manifests itself in self-destructive ways that undermine his efforts to do good in

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