Title: Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra
Genre: Contemporary (90s), Humor, Satire
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Alley Russo is a recent college grad desperately trying to make it in the grueling world of New York publishing, but like so many who have come before her, she has no connections and has settled for an unpaid magazine internship while slinging drinks on Bleecker Street just to make ends meet. That’s when she hears the infamous Walker Reade is looking for an assistant to replace the eight others who have recently quit. Hungry for a chance to get her manuscript onto the desk of an experienced editor, Alley jumps at the opportunity to help Reade finish his latest novel.
After surviving an absurd three-day “trial period” involving a .44 magnum, purple-pyramid acid, violent verbal outbursts, brushes with fame and the law, a bevy of peacocks, and a whole lot of cocaine, Alley is invited to stay at the compound where Reade works. For months Alley attempts to coax the novel out of Walker page-by-page, all while battling his endless procrastination, vampiric schedule, Herculean substance abuse, mounting debt, and casual gunplay. But as the job begins to take a toll on her psyche, Alley realizes she’s alone in the Colorado Rockies at the mercy of a drug-addicted literary icon who may never produce another novel—and her fate may already be sealed.
A smart, rollicking ride told with heart, Gonzo Girl is a loving fictional portrait of a larger-than-life literary icon.
Gonzo Girl is an engrossing debut novel by Cheryl Della Pietra. Based on the author’s experiences as Hunter S. Thompson’s personal assistant, this fictionalized story is a poignant and sometimes harrowing account of a recent college graduate’s daily life with an author whose days are a drug and alcohol fueled blur of outrageous and oftentimes, dangerous, excess.
Alley Russo has big dreams of escaping her family’s blue collar life and while she has a degree from an Ivy League college, she is still tending bar while working as an unpaid intern at a magazine. When she learns Walker Reade is looking for a personal assistant, she jumps at the chance to work for the iconic writer. She is horrified when her job interview entails dropping acid, snorting coke and binge drinking, but she desperately needs the connection to publish her own manuscript. Although she has a few reservations, Alley accepts the job and since she does not get paid until Walker finishes his latest book, she has more than enough incentive to motivate him to write. He manages to churn out a page or two a day, but Alley is appalled at the lackluster drivel he produces and she begins rewriting these dismal attempts before submitting them to his editor. Trying to manage Walker’s excessive behavior becomes increasingly difficult as he begins a downward spiral that turns violent and it is up to his long time assistant Claudia Reynolds to smooth over the numerous problems that threaten to topple the one time literary genius.
By the time Alley begins working for Walker, he is in his early fifties and definitely on the downside of his once illustrious career. His over the top behavior once enhanced his writing ability, but his brilliance is now lost in a haze of drugs and alcohol. He is verbally abusive to the women around him and once he adds coke to the mix, he is downright mean. Walker surrounds himself with a cadre of hangers-on who encourage his out of control behavior and their antics escalate to the point Walker is a danger himself and everyone around him.
Gonzo Girl is definitely an entertaining novel that is fast-paced and compelling (in a train wreck kind of way). Cheryl Della Pietra offers a fascinating peek into the self-indulgent and somewhat debauched lifestyle of a larger than life author whose once impressive talent becomes lost in a haze of addiction. All in all, a surprisingly enjoyable (if sometimes horrifying) read that I highly recommend to fans of Hunter S. Thompson.
Oh and if you’re curious about the title, check out this interesting article on Wikipedia.