Karen Martin on Gonzo GirlJuly 26, 2015
By Karen Martin
for blood, dirt & angels
Write what you know — that’s what wannabe authors are advised to do. When Cheryl Della Pietra was 22 in 1992, she spent five months working as Hunter S. Thompson’s editorial assistant on his ranch near Aspen, Colo. In her debut novel, she writes what she knows.
The advice paid off. Gonzo Girl (Simon & Schuster, $24.99) is a turbulent, funny, sometimes bleak, and often unbelievable tale of the job Alley Russo — her first after graduating from college and winning a stack of student writing awards — takes on in hopes of gaining a high-powered mentor and supporter of her fledging writing efforts.
Turns out, though, that her principal task — coaxing a couple of useful pages per day out of notorious literary legend Walker Reade for a new novel he’s assembling — doesn’t leave much time for personal career advancement. Or anything else.
Instead, Alley finds herself putting her bartending skills (that’s how she paid her college expenses) to use regularly, as drinking seldom stops in the Reade household. There’s also frequent ingesting of LSD and cocaine (lots of it), drug-addled firing of high-powered weapons at Ronald Reagan targets, dressing up in sexy-girly clothing (Walker describes her fashion sense upon arrival as being Amish), over-ordering expeditions to pricey restaurants, entertaining big-name visitors from Hollywood and Europe, and discovering that it doesn’t take much to set Walker off on an excruciatingly vicious rant about the incompetents that surround him.
Walker, whose days usually begin around 3 p.m. and continue until the sun rises the next morning, seldom produces those sought-after pages until at least 2 a.m. Alley learns to mimic his rhythms rather than attempt to reset them. And in order to do her job within such unbounded substance abuse, procrastination, and utter lack of discipline, she finds herself rewriting portions of the pages — a terrifying yet thrilling undertaking with an outcome that is impossible to foresee.
“This book is a book of fiction … names, characters, places and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”
Maybe so, but Della Pietra sure seems to know what she’s writing about — stuff she knows.