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One Pill Makes You Smaller: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2004
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Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Set in the bell-bottomed, experimental 1970s, Lisa Dierbeck's debut novel, One Pill Makes You Smaller, features a smart, young protagonist on a long, strange trip. As if she consumed a cake marked "Eat Me," Alice Duncan feels monstrously tall for her age. At 11 years old she stands 5'7" and fully developed, and beautiful too. Alice wants people to notice her collage artwork, but seems only to attract the sort of attention she's too young to know what to do with.
Borrowing from Lewis Carroll's classic, Dierbeck sends Alice on a similarly startling and surreal journey--spooky and compelling and drug-filled like the Jefferson Airplane song based on the same book. Alice's parents are as absent as those in the original story, leaving her under the care of her coke-snorting teenage half-sister, Aunt Esme. The rabbit hole in this case is The Balthus Institute, a dilapidated summer camp in North Carolina where Aunt Esme sends Alice so she can pursue a rock star in Los Angeles. Upon arrival Alice discovers that Balthus is less an art institute than a mental institution, populated by a tiny assemblage of strange and threatening inhabitants. Arrogant twin sisters take the place of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Cheshire Cat appears in the form of grinning J.D., a drug dealer and seducer who leads Alice down a dangerous path. By the end of her harrowing journey, not even a bottle marked "Drink Me" could bring back Alice's lost innocence. A convincing, disturbing read. --Brangien Davis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Channeling Alice in Wonderland (and, naturally, the 1970s Jefferson Airplane song, "White Rabbit"), Dierbeck shoots down the rabbit hole of '70s misbehavior with this psychedelic debut, crafting a weird and inspired paean to lost innocence. Eleven-year-old Alice Duncan is, in her own opinion, a freak: "a kid's head grafted on a woman's body." Hit on by her classmates (and their fathers), she is forced to fend for herself while her half-sister, Aunt Esme, experiments with all manner of pills and powders in their apartment on East 67th Street in New York City. Abandoned by her father, Dean, a once-respected artist who has checked himself into a mental institution, and her mother, Rain, now cavorting around Italy with her lover, Alice finds solace in her inventive collages of rock stars and pop icons, finally begging her father to come up with the money to send her to art camp for the summer. Esme, who wants to head for L.A. to be with rocker Crash Omaha, happily ships her off to an arts program at the Balthus Institute in Dodgson, N.C. (where "about ninety-eight percent of your acquaintances are going to be junkies. The other ten percent will be acid heads"). Alice lies about her age and falls in with a dangerous crowd, including Esme's primary drug supplier, J.D., a 30-something predator once dismissed from Columbia University, who deals her a dose of reality as he sees it and introduces her to words like "corrupt," "seduce" and "rape," which had never before been a part of her lexicon. This unsettling and disorienting-but also deliciously pop-account of deplorable actions and shattered innocence is a tour de force, a meshing of the myths of the counterculture with the fantastic universe of Lewis Carroll. It's a genuinely original, compulsively readable first novel, sure to stir up controversy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
A haunting meditation on innocence lost amidst the heedless 1970's, One Pill Makes You Smaller by Lisa Dierbeck focuses on the counter-culture fallout wrought on Alice, an eleven-year old girl raised in Manhattan. Dierbeck captures the energy and emotions of the 1970's with startling resonance. She evokes a time when everything was allowed, when parents felt free to abandon their children and seek their own more selfish joy, and teenagers looked to rock bands like Led Zeppelin for philosophy and life instruction. In Dierbeck's 70's, sexual permissiveness was deemed necessary exploration, it was argued by the culture to be something healthy and desired. Men and boys used this rationale to lure girls like Alice into sexual relationships they were too young to want and too scared and confused to speak out about, and Dierbeck painstakingly mines the treacherous horror fashioned at the hands of these predatory lotharios.
After her mother leaves to "pursue joy" and her father seeks refuge in a Connecticut mental hospital, Alice is left in the care of her half-sister, whom she calls Aunt Esme. In the history of literature, Aunt Esme surely ranks as amongst one of the most painfully ill prepared caretakers entrusted to monitor the safety of a child. While Aunt Esme is just a teenager herself, she is remarkably selfish and spends her days getting high with friends and lovers in her attic bedroom, which she has dubbed the "Dollhouse." Several of these lovers sexually abuse Alice, including the creepy hanger-on named Rabbit and a petulant rock star called Crash Omaha. After being sent to an art camp in North Carolina for the summer so that Aunt Esme can follow Crash Omaha to Los Angeles, Alice arrives to discover that the camp is barely operating, with only a skeleton staff and a handful of callous students in attendance. A sinister drug dealer named J.D. quickly slithers into Alice's life, engaging her in an ongoing debate about her innocence, sexuality, and adulthood that lasts throughout the rest of the novel, ultimately leading to a scene of drug-induced horror - a rabbit hole from which Alice will not emerge the same.
Using the outlines of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dierbeck casts a mesmerizing sense of unreality to One Pill Makes You Smaller. She hews closely the characters and moods of the classic text, while reconfiguring it to suit the themes of her unique tale. Dierbeck has maintained the same sense of wonder combined with fear that Lewis Carroll so inventively created for his Alice, and yet Dierbeck confidently branches beyond Carroll's surreal characters, imbuing her spooky twins, mercurial rabbit, and grinning Cheshire with the concreteness and peculiarity needed to craft this fierce and haunting work of fiction. The reader never knows what twisted situation Alice might encounter around the next turn, and it is precisely this sense of adventure and trepidation that drives the narrative while also allowing the story to thoughtfully inquire into the dangerous nature of permissiveness and the dark side of freedom. Dierbeck has initiated great art from a wild time of heedless freedom, creating a tremendously disturbing novel with strong emotional impact.
Most recent customer reviews
By R. A. Frauenglas "Brooklyn Bum" (St. Louis, MO)
This review is from: One Pill Makes You Smaller: A Novel (Paperback)...Read more
This is a razor sharp romp thru the excess of the 70's.Try this book!