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About The Book

Wonderfully empathic, smartly comic, and wickedly insightful, this captivating debut novel maps the progress of an unforgettable young woman endeavoring to mend a broken heart and find salvation.

"Hello, my name is Tyler Tracer and I am falling apart. I am twenty-four years old, and I have no ability whatsoever to choose an occupation or a hair color."

Meet Tyler, the singularly irresistible and straight-talking heroine of Sarahbeth Purcell's touching first novel. An incurable romantic, Tyler's chief obsessions include music, list-making -- and David, the man who broke her heart. Despite an exhaustively detailed list of reasons for why she should just forget about David once and for all -- including (but by no means limited to) chronic illness, terminal self-absorption, and geographical inaccessibility -- Tyler remains hopelessly hooked on him. Hence the wild ride she embarks upon in the wake of her father's death, a ride that takes her from her hometown in Tennessee to sunny Los Angeles, all in hopes of saving David from his ominous take on life.
This hilarious and dark cross-country expedition finds our young heroine negotiating the universally perilous terrain of sex, love, and relationships with uncommon verve, wit, and more than a little recklessness. Along the way, Tyler discovers, among other things, the uniquely redemptive powers of roadkill, the fact that enduring love tends to blossom in the most unexpected and unlikeliest places, and, above all, that nothing can stop her from making her own rules and mapping out her own life. Not even herself.
A joyous triumph of a debut to which readers will respond with a sense of instant recognition, Sarahbeth Purcell's Love Is the Drug spins a story of bold living and loving that crackles with energy and innovation.


Chapter 1: The Rules

I'm in a Rite Aid in the Valley and Peter Cetera is playing. I am singing along while I'm in line buying exactly three postcards, a bottle of Evian, a lighter, some butter, and a metal-barreled round hairbrush. And I know the fucking words to "The Glory of Love." Every single one of them. Okay, so Karate Kid II was overrated. But Peter Cetera was a genius in a bad Eighties bomber jacket, singing the theme song. I saw Cetera once at a carnival. His wife looks like you would think Peter Cetera's wife would look. Like a bleached-blonde California silicone-enhanced ditz twenty years his junior. But, bless you, Peter, for "The Glory of Love." It's just the kind of bad radio song I need to relate to right now. Not quite as respectable as Billy Joel, not quite as horrific as Michael Bolton.

There's this pudgy black-haired little girl at the Good Humor Ice Cream stand inside the pharmacy who is yelling at the acne-covered Latino ice cream man because she wanted the other kind of fudge ripple in her three-scoop cone. She has the air of a forty-five-year-old CEO in New York City who has been jilted by a cabby. She is maybe seven years old. This California girl is jaded beyond repair. My turn comes up in line.

"A pack of Marlboro Lights and a pack of Marlboro Ultralights, please."

I gave myself away right there. No one says please in the Valley. Or thank you. Unless it's in a sarcastic tone when the coffee is two minutes late and they want the head of the server. You got me. I'm not from here. But I need the Ultralights. I need something to separate myself from him, pretend that I'm not on the same path of self-destruction. Pretend that I care just one percent more about my blackened lungs to buy the "lightest" version of lung cancer available. David wants the Lights, to show that he isn't totally hard-core anything. Wishy-washy. Fucking Libras do it to me every time.

"How old are you?"


"Can I see some ID?"

I get carded to this day, and I am now twenty-four, five days ago. I feel like I'm seventy half the time, so being mistaken for someone less than eighteen has gotten old by now. Once I show the counter girl my ID, and the two old bitches behind me have sighed their L.A. sigh that everyone has learned in the Valley, she lets me go. I sort of shimmy out of the pharmacy, feeling very proud of accomplishing something. He'll be so happy. David will see that I care enough to help him smoke himself to death.

I'm walking and trying to light a cigarette at the same time and traffic here is like a game of fucking Frogger. Dodge the cars, watch for bullets. I am getting a buzz from one puff of my Ultralight cigarette and I have to put it out. All my bright ideas make me sick. As I head over past the 7-Eleven, I'm thinking of what else is on my internal list of things to do to be a good person today, and I'm overwhelmed. But I got his cigarettes. I got the butter. Now I can bake for him. He will love my cookies. If he loves my cookies, he will love me. If he loves me, I am worthy.

I open the gate to the little white duplex on the little dead end street, and tiptoe to his door. I can hear the TV blaring. I can hear the stereo's sound effects from the video game he's been engrossed in for the last few months. He won't even notice I was gone. So now I must tiptoe inside. He can't notice when I'm there, he has to notice when I'm gone. These are the rules I have made up for David to need me. If I'm noisy, he will want me to leave. If I break something, he's better off without me. If he says the house is too small, it means that I am too big. I take up too much space. I need to figure out how to shrink myself. I need to become like rice paper, like origami, so he can fold me up and put me in his pocket until he's ready to unfold me again.

When I shut the door behind me, David glances up from his game.

"Hiya, sweetie."

"Hi, baby."

"How was your run?"

"Uh, okay."

I dodge cords and clothes on the floor and hand him his pack of cigarettes. He still hasn't really looked up from his game.

"Thanks, hon."


I shuffle papers, open and close drawers, try to seem like I have something to do while he's busy saving his universe there on the computer. I look over at the bottle of Cuervo on top of the fridge. I can't start drinking yet. It's only five. He'll think I'm an alcoholic. And I am so not an alcoholic. I never drink at home. I only drink when I'm on vacation, or when I'm bored or when I'm depressed. My dad is the alcoholic. I'm just...young. But God, I need a drink. I need to relax. I need to stop feeling like David doesn't want me here, like he doesn't like me, like he's just humoring me. I have to stop asking stupid questions like, "What's your favorite color?" and "What's your mother's sign?" I have to stop being young. I have to get jaded. I have to be cynical. I have to stop speaking. I have to be invisible. He likes things that don't really exist.

"What's wrong?"

He knows I'm a basket case, but I am this way because of so many things. I have a right to be uneven right now. It's my father's sickness, it's David's disinterest, it's that I'm twenty-four and I still haven't really figured out if I want to live or not. It's my tendency to choose the wrong times to talk. It's that with David, it's never a good time to talk. It's that I love this bastard so much I am becoming everyone I ever hated just to be nearer to him. It's that he doesn't want me near him anymore. It's that I just want this one thing to be okay. It's that it never will. It's your fault, David. I am a mess because you won't let me clean us up. You would rather remain on the floor, spilled, tracked over, something that would have made a nice conversation piece, a thing of beauty, if someone had allowed it to. You would rather be broken glass in my feet than the looking glass I peer into every day. It's that you don't care what's wrong, David. I try to hold back the tears as I look up from the twice-cleaned countertop.

"It's my dad."

David doesn't look up from his game.

"What about him?"

"He's not getting better."

Silence. No, I take that back. Not silence. There is a happy techno sound coming out of the stereo, because he is winning his video game. David's character is fairly powerful by now, and he has all these spells he casts on his opponents and each spell has a specific sound to it. And this sound means that he gained something. A weapon, money, a slave, whatever. Life is good. David is happy. He looks up triumphantly. Uncomfortably.

"That sucks."

I try to fold into smaller pieces when he looks at me, so the space around me looks bigger. So he doesn't think I take up much room at all. I suddenly want to be like the treadmill you can fold up and put under the bed.

"Yeah. He's basically...dying."

David gives me a blank look and turns back to kill some more creatures. I tiptoe to the bathroom and shut the door. Turn on the bath. And start to sob. How can I ever compete with an immortal character? Why do I want to? Why is it necessary for me to find the one person in the world who wants to die alone and try to force him to change his mind? This is my brand of attention. I need this attention most.

Top Ten Reasons I Cannot Leave David

1. He needs me.

2. I think I need him.

3. I am in love with him.

4. I have to make him love me again.

5. He is too fucked up to find someone to be with him now, and I won't let him die alone.

6. I am too jaded for dating around anymore and I hate dates and I hate guys paying for dinners and expecting pussy in return and I might as well settle down now.

7. We have great sex. Did I say great? It's fucking amazing.

8. We have really good sex. It counts for two. It's that good.

9. We are both very shy and very bruised from love and we both don't trust people so we might as well be distrustful and miserable together.

10. We have a lot in common. Like cooking. And music. And books. And sex.

Copyright © 2003 by Sarahbeth Purcell

Reading Group Guide

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1) David claims that, "The nature of beauty is transient" (42). What does he mean by this? This definition is convenient for David: since beauty has an expiration date he will never have to trouble himself to seek it. Do you think Tyler shares this opinion? Does she think something beautiful, like love, can be non-perishable? Or does she believe that it's worth finding even if it will expire? How does her opinion change over the course of the novel?
2) Why is David so obsessed with his video game (53)? Tyler thinks that David, "likes things that doesn't really exist"(12). Why does she form this opinion of him? Is it true of her as well? Does she want a fantasy boyfriend instead of a real man? Tyler seems very sensitive to the way in which people create fantasies and fabricate feeling, even in their most intimate moments. She knows she does this herself, and says of sex with David, "Sometimes I wish it was all as good as it probably sounds to the lawn maintenance men outside trimming the shrubs"(25). Why does Tyler indulge David's fantasies and her own? Are there other instances in this novel where fantasy clashes with reality?
3) The ninth reason Tyler cannot be with David is that, "He lives across the country and doesn't want me to be here with him anymore and does not wish to move to the south, where I live" (47). How does Tyler's sense of the geographic gulf that separates her from David reflect their emotional separation? Think about the numerous ways in which Tyler and David seem to inhabit separate spaces even while they live together. David makes it clear that Tyler should stay out of the kitchen while he is cooking (50), and Tyler picks up more subtle cues that his space is his own which she reacts to by trying to "fold into smaller pieces…so the space around [her] looks bigger" (13). She tries to make a sanctuary for herself in the bathroom (50), but feels constrained there. How do these dynamics characterize their relationship for us? What do David and Tyler need to overcome before they would be able to occupy the same space?
4) Does it surprise you when Tyler finally reveals that she and David have only been living together for two weeks before she returns to her family (59)? Why or why not? Consider the way she chooses to reveal her history. Why does she spend so much time talking about David? How does her obsession with him affect her perspective, and how does your awareness of her perspective affect the way you read the book?
5) Since we only get glimpses of David through Tyler's eyes, he remains an elusive character throughout the novel-more a shadow of a person than anyone real. Ask yourself, how important is David (the actual character of David rather than Tyler's perception of David) to the story? Do we ever get to see the "real" David, or is the lens through which the narrator perceives him too murky?
6) After returning to her family, Tyler suggests that perhaps she wasn't in love with David after all. She says, "I think I might think I'm in love with David and am allowing him to rip my heart out and stomp all over it for effect"(77). How does her need for attention affect her relationship? Does she trust her own attachment to David? Do you? Can you compare the way she interacts with her family to the way she approaches David? Do any of the same patterns emerge? Are you surprised that the narrator seems to be aware of these dynamics and yet seems powerless to overcome them?
7) When Tyler is drinking at Perry's house, she says, "I was getting back at Dad, who gave me the thirst that can never be quenched and who left me too soon. I was getting back at David, who wouldn't fucking say goodbye"(115). How does Tyler's relationship with her dad parallel her relationship with David? In what ways does her one-night stand with Perry reveal new aspects of her relationship with both men? What do with learn about her relationships with these men while she spends time with Parker?
8) Tyler's night with Perry shows her just as much about her relationship with alcohol as it does her relationship with men. Tyler has two significant breakthroughs after that night. She says, "I never enjoyed sex with David….I always screamed because he was filling this hole I could never fill completely on my own, and I knew that he would empty it again soon and I would be left all alone. I am all alone now, and I have come to grips with the fact that I could have a drinking problem"(118). How are Tyler's two epiphanies, the honest acknowledgment of her desperate sexual relationship with David and the realization that she has a drinking problem, related? Do these destructive tendencies share a common root? What train of thought allows her to reach both of these conclusions in the same night?
9) Tyler says of her life, "When in doubt, trust it won't work out" (131). Do you think this is sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy for Tyler? Her perceptions and biting criticism, which is often directed at herself, comprise nearly the entire the book. How much of her grief is due to tragic circumstances in her life, and how much stems from her own bleak outlook? How does her history of depression complicate our perception of her? Does her outlook change?
10) When Tyler takes off on her road trip, what do you believe the goal of her journey is? Do you think she knows where she is headed? As she heads out of Nashville, all she says is, "I am leaving all of this. I am going to conquer this list"(124). On the road, she studiously checks off her life goals one at a time, but after she slits her wrist, she confesses, "I pretended I didn't really know why I was on this road trip"(182). This seems to imply that she had an ulterior motive, something other than the list, which she was working on. Are you surprised when she ends up on David's doorstep? What do you think she has accomplished by the time she gets there? Is that the end of her journey?
11) After her panic attack Tyler crosses off number four, "Decide to live"(144) on her list of goals. And yet, further along, seized in a fit of depression, Tyler acts suicidal. She explains bitterly, "My blood has been poisoned by my father's genes, my family's burdens, my own shortcomings. I want to rid myself of this poison, even if I don't survive the removal"(180). How does this scene fit into to Tyler's journey? Is her self-destructive act a set-back for her, or is it ultimately providential?
12) After all her adventures, Tyler deletes the number one item on her list of "Top Ten Things I Want to Do in Life": "Do what makes you happy" (195). She replaces is with another goal: "Get support. And good backrubs." Why does she make this change? How are these two goals related?
13) A fortune teller at the Italian street fair in Nashville told Tyler the same fortune year after year: "I would never have to worry about money, that my true love was far, far away, that I was born and old woman and I would be getting younger as I got older. And I believed her, every year, I believed her" (124). Do you think Tyler has a younger, fresher outlook by the end of the novel? Has she come any closer to love?

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Sarahbeth Purcell is also the author of Love Is the Drug. She was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, where she still resides. She is currently at work on her third effort, Somewhere Between Here and There, as well as other multimedia projects. For more info and exclusive pictures, visit her official website at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (November 1, 2007)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416590484

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