Two days into reading Brian Allen Carr’s hilarious, heartbreaking Opioid, Indiana, I made an omelet for the first time in a while. I made it because the teenage hero of Carr’s book, Riggle, is an ace at making omelets. His mother taught him, but she’s dead. So is Riggle’s father. Since then he’s bounced from one foster home to another until ending up in Opioid, Indiana, at the home of his Uncle Joe, a junkie.
Soon after the book opens, Joe goes missing. The rent is due, and between Joe, his girlfriend Peggy and Riggle, Joe is the only one who has anything resembling money. At the same time, Riggle is suspended from school because of a medicinally enhanced vape pen. No one is particularly concerned about him being out of school and at liberty. Indeed, it’s shortly after this that he gets a job at the local restaurant after flourishing his mad omelet skills. Peggy insists he use his free time to hunt for Joe.
To an outsider, nothing much happens in Opioid, until it does. It’s gray and cold, with everyone just trying to get by. Readers are privileged to be inside Riggle’s head, as this bright, fractious, hurting, lovable boy muses on everything from race and class to drugs and sex. To make sense of a world that makes no sense, he employs a shadow puppet named Remote. Riggle’s mother used to play the Remote game with him when he was little, using the puppet to tell a story of how the days of the week got their names. The book even includes illustrations of hands forming the all-knowing shadow puppet.
Carr’s style is delightfully straightforward, and he takes special pleasure in absurdity. The climax of the story is so strange, horrifying and darkly hilarious that you may have to put the book down because you’re laughing so hard.
The story offers no clear answers as to what’s going to happen to Riggle, Peggy and all the other characters. But the reader will wonder for quite some time—and there’s really no higher compliment to give a book.