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News of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death from an apparent heroin overdose broke over the weekend. An autopsy was inconclusive, and there will be more tests. In trying to make sense of it all, some people have written about his major movie roles. Others have more in the performances that might have been. And some are focusing on the damage that addiction can cause.

Writer Abigail Deutsch is one of them. She's approaching it through fiction.

ABIGAIL DEUTSCH: When I heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, I happened to be reading a novel called "Bad News" by Edward St. Aubyn. It's the story of a drug addict named Patrick Melrose, and when I picked the book up again, it was with a new perspective. Now I was reading to help myself imagine what Hoffman might have gone through.

"Bad News" begins with the unexpected death of Patrick's father. Patrick travels to New York to collect the ashes, and he promises himself he'll stay clean during the trip. But he can't do it, and the effects are disastrous. Some of the novel's best writing is about Patrick's yearning for heroin, the first heartbreaking wave of pleasure, when consciousness seemed to burst out like white blossoms along the branches of every nerve.

Patrick doesn't show much interest in his girlfriend, but he's deeply in love with his drugs. He feels all the longing that a man bestows on a woman who is betraying him and whose betrayal deepens his longing and enslaves him as her fidelity never could.

The language of this book is incredibly lush, as Patrick sinks into his addiction. He compares the symptoms of withdrawal to a litter of drowning kittens in his stomach. The novel ends in the same way it begins: with Patrick pretending to be asleep. The repetition matches the monotony of his addiction and makes us despair that he will ever recover.

CORNISH: Abigail Deutsch is a freelance book critic. The novel she recommended was "Bad News" by Edward St. Aubyn.


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