Book Review: Ruth Madievsky's All-Night Pharmacy
"If you're not asking yourself, Am I about to ruin my life? at least once a day, you're not living a life at all." Ever wondered where such philosophy of life could lead you? Ruth Madievsky's debut novel All-Night Pharmacy might be the answer.
Drugs, sex, toxic relations, identity crisis - everything is there to make the book a popular bestseller. But still for some it might appear as a shallow manifestation of already drained ideas. The truth is probably somewhere in-between for every reader might find their own catch or trigger in the novel.
It features two sisters grown up in a dysfunctional family where Debbie, the older sister, has a huge influence on the younger one. The story is being told by the latter who never tells her name. Actually the reader gets a biased story just from one perspective all the way down to the last chapters, and only then you get to doubt what it could have looked like if told on Debbie's behalf. Anyway, the younger sister follows Debbie everywhere, to clubs and bars, consuming pills, booze and stronger drugs together with her and step-by-step ruining her own life to match her sister's. Deep down she understands toxicity of this relationship but cannot resist it. "One sister's clarity was the other's delusion. That's was the tragedy of our sisterhood. As soon we came close to a mutual understanding, one of us changed, or both."
The story-teller is a smart and intelligent person who should have gone to college, however, wounded by a traumatic childhood where her mother has always suffered from mental problems making her extremely paranoic and her father just left the family for his countless mistresses, she's too vulnerable and too dependent on Debbie always hoping her big sister will take care of her. But Debbie has her own share of broken childhood with long-term effects on her current way of living: "Spending time with my sister, Debbie, was like buying acid off a guy you met on the bus. You never knew if it would end with you, euphoric, tanning topless on a fishing boat headed for Ensenada, or coming to in a gas station bathroom, the insides of your eyes feeling as though they'd been scraped out with spoons. Often, it was both."
When Debbie once again shatters her sister's expectations when she needs her most, something inside the narrator wakes her unstoppable anger, and bad thing happens that results in Debbie going missing. Now the younger sister is on her own but instead of improving her life she is determined to totally ruin it. She takes a secretary position at the local hospital's emergency room and, being a smart ass, tailors a scheme how to get pills from the hospital pharmacy for dealing and for her own use.
However, the situation changes when a young lady who calls herself a psychic walks into the emergency room and claims she's destined to be our narrator's amulet. So instead of Debbie, now the younger sister gets Sasha to guide her through life. Only this time it's a good influence she encounters, as Sasha helps her to get rid of pill addiction and find her true lesbian self. Though the stronger a person becomes, the less they are satisfied with the manipulations of others.
As the author of the novel is an immigrant to the United States from Moldova, a former Soviet Republic, the topic of one's ethnical heritage and an obligation to live a life that your parents and grandparents imagined for their children by emigrating to a foreign world is a key one. The narrator learns to speak Russian and often enjoys the Russian meals that her grandmother, an Jewish immigrant from St. Petersburg who suffered from the Soviet terror, makes at home, simultaneously urging her granddaughter to get a better job, have a family and children. Sasha is also an immigrant from Moldova when she was seven-year-old, and one day she brings the narrator to Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, shows her all places of her childhood and even invites her to the apartment her family used to live. Sasha is drawn back by her roots and she decides to stay there but the narrator has another vision on how to deal with this gratitude to the elder who think they know better. Because it is yet another form of toxic relationship - reprogramming your expectations and vision onto your next generation. The younger sister finally dares her family's past with a different point of view: "I wanted to believe I could honor them by living the life I chose for myself, by making choices that, for them, were never even on the table. That there was a world where my dead saw me - a recovering addict with a psychic girlfriend and a missing sister, estranged from Judaism and unable to speak any of their languages - and felt proud."
Will the narrator continue to search for her sister and will she eventually find her? The more important is that she undergoes her personal inner transformations, which might seem minimal though liberating, with a self-actualizing future in them.