Dan McFadden, Cheechako (iUniverse, 2002)

Dan McFadden's debut novel, Cheechako, is 700 pages of addiction. Not only is it full of insightful prose about cravings (fed by the author's own struggles), but it is an addicting experience in its own right.

Four people, each in varying stages of addiction -- from embracing to recovering -- are the only survivors of an earthquake that destroys most of the remote fishing village of Seldovia, Alaska. Another effect of the quake is the leakage from a secret plutonium dumping site in the village. The survivors become prey of the government when they discover the truth behind the missiles coming from a supposedly abandoned military base nearby. John Murray, assistant to the President, is sent to cover up the mistake.

Also ordering Murray around is a "subterranean deity" who calls himself Pluto and is owner of a mysterious black box -- itself an addictive force. He has given Murray one of these in exchange for his efforts, which include extermination of the four survivors and another witness, the governor of the state.

McFadden, a recovering addict himself, who has been clean since the early 1980's, worked on this book for fifteen years -- and it shows. The level of craft is evident in the multi-layered plot, which folds over on itself and reveals deeper meaning beyond the face value of the text. I don't generally like messages buried in my entertainment, but Cheechako -- a terrific horror-adventure on the surface -- is also a fine allegory for the horrors of addiction. Pluto's black box is an overpowering force that attracts all to it -- even to the point of giving up their children in exchange for the mere promise of receiving one.

And Murray's struggle with the box -- and the promise of fantasy-fulfillment that it contains -- gives rise to the most graphically horrific sex scenes I have read since Poppy Z. Brite.

Cheechako is truly a terrific book. McFadden's characters are real people, not just collections of idiosyncrasies, and the storyline, while not always the easiest to follow, is compelling and works. Cheechako requires an extensive commitment of time, but it gives back tenfold in entertainment value.

The book could easily have been shortened by a third with tighter editing (the editing in general is neglectful, with numerous spelling and factual errors slipping past), and the weight of the message contained in the heavy-handed ending temporarily overcomes the story, but these tiny complaints are easily forgiven when what remains is still of the highest quality. The man even knows how to write a grammatically correct sentence, a long forgotten art these days.


[Craig Clarke]

More information, including sample chapters, is available at the Cheechako Web site.