Empty Bottle of Smoke: A Novel
Empty Bottle of Smoke by Conon Parks begins with the words “based upon a true story.” This statement quickly becomes problematic for the reader, as what follows can only be described as the story of the events leading up to the World Trade Organization’s conference in Seattle in 1999 as told from the point of view of a drug-fogged, delusional, and disgruntled man. We follow Walter as he opens his junk mail and rants about everything from Soviet sexual enhancement elixirs to the dishonesty of Ed McMahon. Amid this mail, however, is a threatening letter that sends Walter scurrying for cover at the New Museum of Indecision and Hysteria and the We B Art Gallery. It is here where he meets a cornucopia of radicals, activists, and deviants. As the riots kick into high gear, Walter faces his own inner turmoil and soul searching, helped by the fact that he has no access to the drugs that have kept him incoherent most of the time.
While I find the plot distressingly familiar to the 2007 movie Battle in Seattle, I have to say that the author has a way with words. It really does feel like you are in the mind of a drug user as he navigates the days leading up to the riots that shook Seattle. His choppy and often confusing sentences reflect the mindset of the main character. His descriptions of the riots are detailed and insightful.
This book is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read. His stream-of-consciousness method of writing is made even more difficult by the fact that the narrator is as unreliable as the protagonist and seems to be seeing the world through a drug haze. I read this book twice and honestly am still confused as to what the author is trying to do. That said, it may appeal to an audience interested in drug culture or political activism.