In this debut novel, Cynthia Cruz administers an IV drip of capitalist entropy that keeps us rapt: Steady Diet of Nothing compels readers to consume it in one headlong sitting. Charting the dissolution of an adolescent runaway community, the book follows a teenage girl, Candy, after her arrival at the Blue House — an abandoned home inhabited by other children seeking shelter from the world. Here, she falls in love with Toby, a boy from elsewhere whose companionship interrupts the perpetual alienation of the status quo. “He didn’t explain, but I knew,” Candy says. “I knew as soon as he’d started talking, that we’d come from the same place.”
Beyond their den’s walls, the market reigns, and the societal structure of infinite calculation and infinite exchange has rendered contemporary life meaningless. As Toby and Candy separately descend into drug addiction and prostitution, they find their efforts to defy the American economic superstructure futile, and Candy, again, is alone. “I’m going to die in here, I say, to no one.” The transcription of a mute prayer, Steady Diet of Nothing is a stark, vital work that requires our attention. “I’m awake or else I’m dreaming,” Candy narrates. “There’s a knock on the door. The phone rings forever but I can’t put the receiver down.” It keeps the line open as long as it can.
from Steady Diet of Nothing
I stare at the television at the images of boys in black hooded sweatshirts and black jeans, military boots. Their faces covered in scarves, bandanas or black ski masks.
They run from the riot police who shoot tear gas into their faces. Some of the boys wear goggles to protect their eyes from the poison, some wear gas masks, others carry hand- kerchiefs doused in vinegar. The police drive large green trucks with twin water cannons mounted on top.
I stare at the image of the fenced-off coastal resort: the seven-mile-long barbed-wire fence where the protesters are kept outside, while inside world leaders meet to discuss fi- nance. Loans and interest rates. A sky of helicopters and fighter planes patrol the closed- off water and airspace.
I watch the boys, how they run, their bodies filled with rage and desire.
I watch the boys, I close my eyes, and I try to will myself out of this room to the place where they are. I shut my eyes and I try to will myself to be one of them.
Stunning. Part intimate portrayal of life on the street, part road story, Cynthia Cruz’s Steady Diet of Nothing is a brutal elegy, a masterful rebuke to the idea of the survivor narrative. In transcendent prose Cruz gives us a shining ballad of anti-redemption worthy of Duras and Genet. And what a gift. We are so sick of survivors. This is a book for the rest of us.