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David Sanchez’s debut novel a starkly compelling look at addiction

“All Day Is a Long Time,” set in Tampa, brings new energy to a familiar story.
David Sanchez's debut novel is "All Day Is a Long Time."
David Sanchez's debut novel is "All Day Is a Long Time." [ David Sanchez ]
Published May 12|Updated May 12

Ever wondered what it feels like to be an addict?

If you have, Tampa writer David Sanchez’s debut novel, All Day Is a Long Time, is a vivid, unsparing account of a descent into addiction and the trip back out.

Not that it has that simple a plot — indeed, its timeline is fractured, sometimes repetitious, often confusing, just like the life of its first-person narrator, unnamed for most of the book.

Sanchez has said in interviews that, although he was an addict himself starting in his teens, the book is not a memoir. Autobiographical fiction allows the writer more room to shape events and characters, to focus on themes, and this book certainly has compulsive focus.

Early on, its narrator recounts his first memorable drug experience at age 14, when he takes a Greyhound bus from Tampa, where he lives with his family, to Key West to hang out with his girlfriend while she’s on vacation. In Key West he takes up with a scruffy Florida Man who gets him high and then sexually abuses him.

What that event reveals about the narrator might not be what you expect. He doesn’t tell us about it to lay blame for his swift downward spiral; on the contrary, he disdains the addict’s common tendency to shift responsibility: “You are running from something. Trauma, especially. You were raised wrong, you didn’t know any better. It’s genetic and one or both of your parents are the same way. … These are all flimsy excuses.”

He takes perverse pride in insisting that almost everything that happens to him is his own choice, even if he can’t explain why he chose it. Over the years, he becomes familiar with the methods of psychiatrists and others who try to treat his addiction: “Narrative was so important to these people. I guess it was important to me, too, in a different way. All of their ideas and stories relied on me having no agency whatsoever. They needed that. And however true it sounded to me, I needed some kind of agency. I craved it.”

As for drugs, he craves cocaine and meth, but he’ll use almost anything.

In some ways his behavior fits stereotyped notions of addicts: the ease with which he lies, his willingness to manipulate and use people, and especially the seemingly endless cycle he falls into of using, arrest, rehab, using again.

But he can be surprising as well. He’s given to learned monologues on topics that range from the science of how meth and crack affect the brain and body to the relationship between geometry and wrestling (which he discovers while on the high school wrestling team).

And even in his worst periods, he loves books, “Goethe or the DSM, back issues of the Saturday Evening Post or Emily Dickinson.” At one point, he is locked into a three-point pattern: He sleeps in a garden shed behind a friend’s house (although he rarely sleeps), he travels to a trailer park to score drugs from a terrifying man who wants to rant about chemtrails, and he goes to the library to read.

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That library is in downtown Tampa. The city is the setting for most of the book, and it stands out in some scenes, particularly one memory he has of his childhood. Looking east across Hillsborough Bay from Bayshore to the phosphate mounds on the other shore, “mistaking the tiny bay for the yawning ocean, misjudging the abilities of my own sight against the undefeated power of distance, I asked my dad if those sandy pyramids were Egypt, and he and my brother laughed, and he said, Maybe.”

But much of what happens to the narrator could happen anywhere. What makes this particular addict’s story different is that he does break the cycle, and the books are the path that leads him out.

Sanchez took a similar path, getting sober, going to college, earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of Miami. All of those books taught him well; even though the story told in All Day Is a Long Time can be disturbing, the well-crafted writing is often beautiful.

All Day Is a Long Time cover
All Day Is a Long Time cover [ Harper ]

All Day Is a Long Time

By David Sanchez

Harper, 256 pages, $25.99

Meet the author

Tombolo Books presents David Sanchez in conversation about his debut novel with author Kristen Arnett (With Teeth) at 7 p.m. May 18 at Coastal Creative, 2201 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Tickets $5 at tombolobooks.com/events.

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