Sex, Drugs & Blueberries may be set in the grand ol’ state of Maine, but it’s not the postcard-ready Vacationland of bright-red boiled lobsters, pipe-smoking old salts in shiny foul-weather gear gazing off to sea, and harbor seals smiling and waving at the camera. No – there’s none of that.
Barry’s Maine is one of sun-scorched blueberry barrens, just enough gas to get through the evening (providing the pickup doesn’t end up in the puckerbrush), cheap beer (none of that microbrew stuff), and, yes, drugs. And the thing is, Barry’s Maine is just as real as that postcard version – but you’d have to know about it to write about it.
Sex, Drugs & Blueberries lets the reader ride shotgun with down-on-his-luck-but-still-hopeful musician Ben Franklin who, along with his gentle poet wife, moves from the mainstream of Portland, ME to the depressed downeast end of the state where it rubs up against the Canadian border. Franklin arrives in time to hit the blueberry fields in an attempt to make enough harvest cash to get his feet underneath him. Two of the hardest ways to make a dollar in Maine are either on the end of a clam hoe or a blueberry rake and it doesn’t take long for Franklin to figure out he’s not looking at any quick or easy money. In the meantime, the closest he comes to new friends are definitely not good company – and it doesn’t take long for things to get weird, weirder, and really weird. Sex, Drugs & Blueberries draws you into Ben’s head easily; before you know it, you’re wondering how – or if – he’s going to get clear of the mess he’s in.
Barry has Stephen King’s knack for dialogue and Carolyn Chute’s ability to lodge grit under your fingernails in just a few sentences, but he writes in a voice that’s solely his own. This is the kind of storytelling that can only come from having been there.
Don’t ask. Just read.