A Los Angeles dive bar packed with personalities. A sibling dynamic that runs the gamut from nourishing to obliterating. A mysterious woman who promises to be a kind of guru to a narrator on the brink of self-destruction. All this and more can be found in Ruth Madievsky’s debut novel, an exploded view of a conflicted young woman’s brain that delivers page after page of witty, often heartbreaking narration.
The unnamed protagonist of All-Night Pharmacy is a teenage girl just out of high school who’s swept up in the life and adventures of her older sister, Debbie, a stripper and party girl who encourages her younger sibling to go out and live, no matter the consequences. But in between swallowing random pills and taking shots at a local bar called Salvation, the narrator begins to wonder if Debbie is anything more than a master manipulator and chaos agent. When their clash of personalities turns bloody, Debbie disappears, but this is only the beginning of the narrator’s search for meaning and understanding.
With her sister gone, the narrator turns to Sasha, a charming and spellbinding woman who offers spiritual and psychic guidance—an appealing offer for the narrator, whose life has become a wormhole of pills, bad decisions and confusion about her sister’s disappearance. Together Sasha and the narrator embark on a sexual, psychological and emotional awakening.
The tensions of the narrator’s life and the persistent sense of searching that permeates her brain make All-Night Pharmacy hum with energy from the very first page, imbuing Madievsky’s narrative with a sense of darkly comic unpredictability that never overwhelms the emotional beats of her character’s journey. Along the way, the novel touches on the scar tissue of growing up in the former Soviet Union, the trauma of European Jews in the 20th century and the calculated risks that come with opioid addiction and selling drugs. Madievsky is also a poet, and her knack for crafting imagery is on full display, merging the mundane and the profound to ensure her novel is thrilling all the way down to a sentence level.
Madievsky displays tremendous storytelling range, capturing all that is bitter and hilarious, heartbreaking and enlightening, wise and foolish within the well-developed mind of a single central character.