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Atlanta Traffic 

Call her an embedded author: Suzanne Kingsbury braved the mean streets of Atlanta's crack-addled neighborhoods researching her new novel. Over three years she interviewed hookers, addicts and cops, and even handed out clean needles and condoms in an outreach program.

The Gospel According to Gracey (Scribner) describes one day in the life of the city's heroin trade, from the Bluff in Vine City to the mansions of Buckhead. Kingsbury follows a menagerie of fascinating users including Gracey Fill, the ex-wife of a notorious drug runner; Daneeka, a transvestite dealer / prostitute; and Audrey and Frazier, wealthy teens who brave the ghetto for a fix.

Comparisons to the film Traffic may sound obligatory, but the author says her story gives its inner-city characters a far more humane treatment.

"The government and media have jacked up this criminal image of the addict, but really it's not true," she says. "It's everywhere. It's the human condition, really. It's our brothers and sisters and us."

In chilling flashbacks, Kingsbury reveals her characters' turbulent histories that led to their addictions. Her prose, both immediate and starkly honest, has a way of getting into your veins and making you crave more.

The Fulbright scholar recalls that the first time she went into the Bluff, her guide warned her: "If you get shot, tell them you want to go to Grady, because they're the best with bullet wounds."

And yet, she felt oddly bullet proof, despite the gruesome subject matter.

"I think it is horrifying, yes, and it was really hard to write and research," she says. "But it's also humanity at its best, in that we can go to the very bottom of this kind of hell and find our way out of it, and tell our stories, and have people learn from them."

Suzanne Kingsbury appears Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Outwrite Books, 991 Piedmont Ave., 404-607-0082, and Aug. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 2900 Peachtree Road, 404-261-7747.


Shelf Space is a weekly column on books and Atlanta's literary scene.

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